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The Odyssey

Homer


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This is Alexander Pope's translation of The Odyssey; one of the oldest existing works of literature, and one of two epic poems attributed to Homer. It follows Odysseus and his ten-year journey home after the Trojan War. Confronted by natural and supernatural threats - shipwrecks, battles, monsters and the implacable enmity of the sea-god Poseidon - Odysseus must test his bravery and native cunning to the full if he is to reach his homeland safely. But even there, in his absence he has been assumed dead and a group of unruly suitors are competing for his wife's (Penelope) hand in marriage.

№ 60 in Anne Haight's List of Banned Books.

Part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World set.

This book has 326 pages in the PDF version. This translation by Alexander Pope was originally published in 1726.

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Excerpt from 'The Odyssey'

ARGUMENT.
MINERVA’S DESCENT TO ITHACA.

The poem opens within forty eight days of the arrival of Ulysses in his dominions. He had now remained seven years in the Island of Calypso, when the gods assembled in council, proposed the method of his departure from thence and his return to his native country. For this purpose it is concluded to send Mercury to Calypso, and Pallas immediately descends to Ithaca. She holds a conference with Telemachus, in the shape of Mantes, king of Taphians; in which she advises him to take a journey in quest of his father Ulysses, to Pylos and Sparta, where Nestor and Menelaus yet reigned; then, after having visibly displayed her divinity, disappears. The suitors of Penelope make great entertainments, and riot in her palace till night. Phemius sings to them the return of the Grecians, till Penelope puts a stop to the song. Some words arise between the suitors and Telemachus, who summons the council to meet the day following.

The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound;
Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall
Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray’d,
Their manners noted, and their states survey’d,
On stormy seas unnumber’d toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore:
Vain toils! their impious folly dared to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom’d them never more
(Ah, men unbless’d!) to touch that natal shore.
Oh, snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial Muse! and to our world relate.

Now at their native realms the Greeks arrived;
All who the wars of ten long years survived;
And ’scaped the perils of the gulfy main.
Ulysses, sole of all the victor train,
An exile from his dear paternal coast,
Deplored his absent queen and empire lost.
Calypso in her caves constrain’d his stay,
With sweet, reluctant, amorous delay;
In vain-for now the circling years disclose
The day predestined to reward his woes.
At length his Ithaca is given by fate,
Where yet new labours his arrival wait;
At length their rage the hostile powers restrain,
All but the ruthless monarch of the main.
But now the god, remote, a heavenly guest,
In AEthiopia graced the genial feast
(A race divided, whom with sloping rays
The rising and descending sun surveys);
There on the world’s extremest verge revered
With hecatombs and prayer in pomp preferr’d,
Distant he lay: while in the bright abodes
Of high Olympus, Jove convened the gods:
The assembly thus the sire supreme address’d,
AEgysthus’ fate revolving in his breast,
Whom young Orestes to the dreary coast
Of Pluto sent, a blood-polluted ghost.

“Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute degree;
All to the dooming gods their guilt translate,
And follies are miscall’d the crimes of fate.
When to his lust AEgysthus gave the rein,
Did fate, or we, the adulterous act constrain?
Did fate, or we, when great Atrides died,
Urge the bold traitor to the regicide?
Hermes I sent, while yet his soul remain’d
Sincere from royal blood, and faith profaned;
To warn the wretch, that young Orestes, grown
To manly years, should re-assert the throne.
Yet, impotent of mind, and uncontroll’d,
He plunged into the gulf which Heaven foretold.”

Here paused the god; and pensive thus replies
Minerva, graceful with her azure eyes:

“O thou! from whom the whole creation springs,
The source of power on earth derived to kings!
His death was equal to the direful deed;
So may the man of blood be doomed to bleed!
But grief and rage alternate wound my breast
For brave Ulysses, still by fate oppress’d.
Amidst an isle, around whose rocky shore
The forests murmur, and the surges roar,
The blameless hero from his wish’d-for home
A goddess guards in her enchanted dome;
(Atlas her sire, to whose far-piercing eye
The wonders of the deep expanded lie;
The eternal columns which on earth he rears
End in the starry vault, and prop the spheres).
By his fair daughter is the chief confined,
Who soothes to dear delight his anxious mind;
Successless all her soft caresses prove,
To banish from his breast his country’s love;
To see the smoke from his loved palace rise,
While the dear isle in distant prospect lies,
With what contentment could he close his eyes!
And will Omnipotence neglect to save
The suffering virtue of the wise and brave?
Must he, whose altars on the Phrygian shore
With frequent rites, and pure, avow’d thy power,
Be doom’d the worst of human ills to prove,
Unbless’d, abandon’d to the wrath of Jove?”

“Daughter! what words have pass’d thy lips unweigh’d!
(Replied the Thunderer to the martial maid;)
Deem not unjustly by my doom oppress’d,
Of human race the wisest and the best.
Neptune, by prayer repentant rarely won,
Afflicts the chief, to avenge his giant son,
Whose visual orb Ulysses robb’d of light;
Great Polypheme, of more than mortal might?
Him young Thousa bore (the bright increase
Of Phorcys, dreaded in the sounds and seas);
Whom Neptune eyed with bloom of beauty bless’d,
And in his cave the yielding nymph compress’d
For this the god constrains the Greek to roam,
A hopeless exile from his native home,
From death alone exempt—but cease to mourn;
Let all combine to achieve his wish’d return;
Neptune atoned, his wrath shall now refrain,
Or thwart the synod of the gods in vain.”

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