Book XVIII Now there came a certain common tramp who used to go begging all over the
city of Ithaca, and was notorious as an incorrigible glutton and drunkard.
This man had no strength nor stay in him, but he was a great hulking fellow
to look at; his real name, the one his mother gave him, was Arnaeus, but
the young men of the place called him Irus, because he used to run errands
for any one who would send him. As soon as he came he began to insult Ulysses,
and to try and drive him out of his own house.
"Be off, old man," he cried, "from the doorway, or you shall be
dragged out neck and heels. Do you not see that they are all giving me
the wink, and wanting me to turn you out by force, only I do not like to
do so? Get up then, and go of yourself, or we shall come to
Ulysses frowned on him and said, "My friend, I do you no manner
of harm; people give you a great deal, but I am not jealous. There is room
enough in this doorway for the pair of us, and you need not grudge me things
that are not yours to give. You seem to be just such another tramp as myself,
but perhaps the gods will give us better luck by and by. Do not, however,
talk too much about fighting or you will incense me, and old though I am,
I shall cover your mouth and chest with blood. I shall have more peace
to-morrow if I do, for you will not come to the house of Ulysses any
Irus was very angry and answered, "You filthy glutton, you run
on trippingly like an old fish-fag. I have a good mind to lay both hands
about you, and knock your teeth out of your head like so many boar′s tusks.
Get ready, therefore, and let these people here stand by and look on. You
will never be able to fight one who is so much younger than
Thus roundly did they rate one another on the smooth pavement in
front of the doorway, and when Antinous saw what was going on he laughed
heartily and said to the others, "This is the finest sport that you ever
saw; heaven never yet sent anything like it into this house. The stranger
and Irus have quarreled and are going to fight, let us set them on to do
so at once."
The suitors all came up laughing, and gathered round the two ragged
tramps. "Listen to me," said Antinous, "there are some goats′ paunches
down at the fire, which we have filled with blood and fat, and set aside
for supper; he who is victorious and proves himself to be the better man
shall have his pick of the lot; he shall be free of our table and we will
not allow any other beggar about the house at all."
The others all agreed, but Ulysses, to throw them off the scent,
said, "Sirs, an old man like myself, worn out with suffering, cannot hold
his own against a young one; but my irrepressible belly urges me on, though
I know it can only end in my getting a drubbing. You must swear, however
that none of you will give me a foul blow to favour Irus and secure him
They swore as he told them, and when they had completed their oath
Telemachus put in a word and said, "Stranger, if you have a mind to settle
with this fellow, you need not be afraid of any one here. Whoever strikes
you will have to fight more than one. I am host, and the other chiefs,
Antinous and Eurymachus, both of them men of understanding, are of the
same mind as I am."
Every one assented, and Ulysses girded his old rags about his loins,
thus baring his stalwart thighs, his broad chest and shoulders, and his
mighty arms; but Minerva came up to him and made his limbs even stronger
still. The suitors were beyond measure astonished, and one would turn towards
his neighbour saying, "The stranger has brought such a thigh out of his
old rags that there will soon be nothing left of Irus."
Irus began to be very uneasy as he heard them, but the servants
girded him by force, and brought him [into the open part of the court]
in such a fright that his limbs were all of a tremble. Antinous scolded
him and said, "You swaggering bully, you ought never to have been born
at all if you are afraid of such an old broken-down creature as this tramp
is. I say, therefore- and it shall surely be- if he beats you and proves
himself the better man, I shall pack you off on board ship to the mainland
and send you to king Echetus, who kills every one that comes near him.
He will cut off your nose and ears, and draw out your entrails for the
dogs to eat."
This frightened Irus still more, but they brought him into the
middle of the court, and the two men raised their hands to fight. Then
Ulysses considered whether he should let drive so hard at him as to make
an end of him then and there, or whether he should give him a lighter blow
that should only knock him down; in the end he deemed it best to give the
lighter blow for fear the Achaeans should begin to suspect who he was.
Then they began to fight, and Irus hit Ulysses on the right shoulder; but
Ulysses gave Irus a blow on the neck under the ear that broke in the bones
of his skull, and the blood came gushing out of his mouth; he fell groaning
in the dust, gnashing his teeth and kicking on the ground, but the suitors
threw up their hands and nearly died of laughter, as Ulysses caught hold
of him by the foot and dragged him into the outer court as far as the gate-house.
There he propped him up against the wall and put his staff in his hands.
"Sit here," said he, "and keep the dogs and pigs off; you are a pitiful
creature, and if you try to make yourself king of the beggars any more
you shall fare still worse."
Then he threw his dirty old wallet, all tattered and torn, over
his shoulder with the cord by which it hung, and went back to sit down
upon the threshold; but the suitors went within the cloisters, laughing
and saluting him, "May Jove, and all the other gods," said they, ′grant
you whatever you want for having put an end to the importunity of this
insatiable tramp. We will take him over to the mainland presently, to king
Echetus, who kills every one that comes near him."
Ulysses hailed this as of good omen, and Antinous set a great goat′s
paunch before him filled with blood and fat. Amphinomus took two loaves
out of the bread-basket and brought them to him, pledging him as he did
so in a golden goblet of wine. "Good luck to you," he said, "father stranger,
you are very badly off at present, but I hope you will have better times
by and by."
To this Ulysses answered, "Amphinomus, you seem to be a man of
good understanding, as indeed you may well be, seeing whose son you are.
I have heard your father well spoken of; he is Nisus of Dulichium, a man
both brave and wealthy. They tell me you are his son, and you appear to
be a considerable person; listen, therefore, and take heed to what I am
saying. Man is the vainest of all creatures that have their being upon
earth. As long as heaven vouchsafes him health and strength, he thinks
that he shall come to no harm hereafter, and even when the blessed gods
bring sorrow upon him, he bears it as he needs must, and makes the best
of it; for God Almighty gives men their daily minds day by day. I know
all about it, for I was a rich man once, and did much wrong in the stubbornness
of my pride, and in the confidence that my father and my brothers would
support me; therefore let a man fear God in all things always, and take
the good that heaven may see fit to send him without vainglory. Consider
the infamy of what these suitors are doing; see how they are wasting the
estate, and doing dishonour to the wife, of one who is certain to return
some day, and that, too, not long hence. Nay, he will be here soon; may
heaven send you home quietly first that you may not meet with him in the
day of his coming, for once he is here the suitors and he will not part
With these words he made a drink-offering, and when he had drunk
he put the gold cup again into the hands of Amphinomus, who walked away
serious and bowing his head, for he foreboded evil. But even so he did
not escape destruction, for Minerva had doomed him fall by the hand of
Telemachus. So he took his seat again at the place from which he had
Then Minerva put it into the mind of Penelope to show herself to
the suitors, that she might make them still more enamoured of her, and
win still further honour from her son and husband. So she feigned a mocking
laugh and said, "Eurynome, I have changed my and have a fancy to show myself
to the suitors although I detest them. I should like also to give my son
a hint that he had better not have anything more to do with them. They
speak fairly enough but they mean mischief."
"My dear child," answered Eurynome, "all that you have said is
true, go and tell your son about it, but first wash yourself and anoint
your face. Do not go about with your cheeks all covered with tears; it
is not right that you should grieve so incessantly; for Telemachus, whom
you always prayed that you might live to see with a beard, is already grown
"I know, Eurynome," replied Penelope, "that you mean well, but
do not try and persuade me to wash and to anoint myself, for heaven robbed
me of all my beauty on the day my husband sailed; nevertheless, tell Autonoe
and Hippodamia that I want them. They must be with me when I am in the
cloister; I am not going among the men alone; it would not be proper for
me to do so."
On this the old woman went out of the room to bid the maids go
to their mistress. In the meantime Minerva bethought her of another matter,
and sent Penelope off into a sweet slumber; so she lay down on her couch
and her limbs became heavy with sleep. Then the goddess shed grace and
beauty over her that all the Achaeans might admire her. She washed her
face with the ambrosial loveliness that Venus wears when she goes dancing
with the Graces; she made her taller and of a more commanding figure, while
as for her complexion it was whiter than sawn ivory. When Minerva had done
all this she went away, whereon the maids came in from the women′s room
and woke Penelope with the sound of their talking.
"What an exquisitely delicious sleep I have been having," said
she, as she passed her hands over her face, "in spite of all my misery.
I wish Diana would let me die so sweetly now at this very moment, that
I might no longer waste in despair for the loss of my dear husband, who
possessed every kind of good quality and was the most distinguished man
among the Achaeans."
With these words she came down from her upper room, not alone but
attended by two of her maidens, and when she reached the suitors she stood
by one of the bearing-posts supporting the roof of the cloister, holding
a veil before her face, and with a staid maid servant on either side of
her. As they beheld her the suitors were so overpowered and became so desperately
enamoured of her, that each one prayed he might win her for his own bed
"Telemachus," said she, addressing her son, "I fear you are no
longer so discreet and well conducted as you used to be. When you were
younger you had a greater sense of propriety; now, however, that you are
grown up, though a stranger to look at you would take you for the son of
a well-to-do father as far as size and good looks go, your conduct is by
no means what it should be. What is all this disturbance that has been
going on, and how came you to allow a stranger to be so disgracefully ill-treated?
What would have happened if he had suffered serious injury while a suppliant
in our house? Surely this would have been very discreditable to
"I am not surprised, my dear mother, at your displeasure," replied
Telemachus, "I understand all about it and know when things are not as
they should be, which I could not do when I was younger; I cannot, however,
behave with perfect propriety at all times. First one and then another
of these wicked people here keeps driving me out of my mind, and I have
no one to stand by me. After all, however, this fight between Irus and
the stranger did not turn out as the suitors meant it to do, for the stranger
got the best of it. I wish Father Jove, Minerva, and Apollo would break
the neck of every one of these wooers of yours, some inside the house and
some out; and I wish they might all be as limp as Irus is over yonder in
the gate of the outer court. See how he nods his head like a drunken man;
he has had such a thrashing that he cannot stand on his feet nor get back
to his home, wherever that may be, for has no strength left in
Thus did they converse. Eurymachus then came up and said, "Queen
Penelope, daughter of Icarius, if all the Achaeans in Iasian Argos could
see you at this moment, you would have still more suitors in your house
by tomorrow morning, for you are the most admirable woman in the whole
world both as regards personal beauty and strength of
To this Penelope replied, "Eurymachus, heaven robbed me of all
my beauty whether of face or figure when the Argives set sail for Troy
and my dear husband with them. If he were to return and look after my affairs,
I should both be more respected and show a better presence to the world.
As it is, I am oppressed with care, and with the afflictions which heaven
has seen fit to heap upon me. My husband foresaw it all, and when he was
leaving home he took my right wrist in his hand- ′Wife, ′he said, ′we shall
not all of us come safe home from Troy, for the Trojans fight well both
with bow and spear. They are excellent also at fighting from chariots,
and nothing decides the issue of a fight sooner than this. I know not,
therefore, whether heaven will send me back to you, or whether I may not
fall over there at Troy. In the meantime do you look after things here.
Take care of my father and mother as at present, and even more so during
my absence, but when you see our son growing a beard, then marry whom you
will, and leave this your present home. This is what he said and now it
is all coming true. A night will come when I shall have to yield myself
to a marriage which I detest, for Jove has taken from me all hope of happiness.
This further grief, moreover, cuts me to the very heart. You suitors are
not wooing me after the custom of my country. When men are courting a woman
who they think will be a good wife to them and who is of noble birth, and
when they are each trying to win her for himself, they usually bring oxen
and sheep to feast the friends of the lady, and they make her magnificent
presents, instead of eating up other people′s property without paying for
This was what she said, and Ulysses was glad when he heard her
trying to get presents out of the suitors, and flattering them with fair
words which he knew she did not mean.
Then Antinous said, "Queen Penelope, daughter of Icarius, take
as many presents as you please from any one who will give them to you;
it is not well to refuse a present; but we will not go about our business
nor stir from where we are, till you have married the best man among us
whoever he may be."
The others applauded what Antinous had said, and each one sent
his servant to bring his present. Antinous′s man returned with a large
and lovely dress most exquisitely embroidered. It had twelve beautifully
made brooch pins of pure gold with which to fasten it. Eurymachus immediately
brought her a magnificent chain of gold and amber beads that gleamed like
sunlight. Eurydamas′s two men returned with some earrings fashioned into
three brilliant pendants which glistened most beautifully; while king Pisander
son of Polyctor gave her a necklace of the rarest workmanship, and every
one else brought her a beautiful present of some kind.
Then the queen went back to her room upstairs, and her maids brought
the presents after her. Meanwhile the suitors took to singing and dancing,
and stayed till evening came. They danced and sang till it grew dark; they
then brought in three braziers to give light, and piled them up with chopped
firewood very and dry, and they lit torches from them, which the maids
held up turn and turn about. Then Ulysses said:
"Maids, servants of Ulysses who has so long been absent, go to
the queen inside the house; sit with her and amuse her, or spin, and pick
wool. I will hold the light for all these people. They may stay till morning,
but shall not beat me, for I can stand a great deal."
The maids looked at one another and laughed, while pretty Melantho
began to gibe at him contemptuously. She was daughter to Dolius, but had
been brought up by Penelope, who used to give her toys to play with, and
looked after her when she was a child; but in spite of all this she showed
no consideration for the sorrows of her mistress, and used to misconduct
herself with Eurymachus, with whom she was in love.
"Poor wretch," said she, "are you gone clean out of your mind?
Go and sleep in some smithy, or place of public gossips, instead of chattering
here. Are you not ashamed of opening your mouth before your betters- so
many of them too? Has the wine been getting into your head, or do you always
babble in this way? You seem to have lost your wits because you beat the
tramp Irus; take care that a better man than he does not come and cudgel
you about the head till he pack you bleeding out of the
"Vixen," replied Ulysses, scowling at her, "I will go and tell
Telemachus what you have been saying, and he will have you torn limb from
With these words he scared the women, and they went off into the
body of the house. They trembled all aver, for they thought he would do
as he said. But Ulysses took his stand near the burning braziers, holding
up torches and looking at the people- brooding the while on things that
should surely come to pass.
But Minerva would not let the suitors for one moment cease their
insolence, for she wanted Ulysses to become even more bitter against them;
she therefore set Eurymachus son of Polybus on to gibe at him, which made
the others laugh. "Listen to me," said he, "you suitors of Queen Penelope,
that I may speak even as I am minded. It is not for nothing that this man
has come to the house of Ulysses; I believe the light has not been coming
from the torches, but from his own head- for his hair is all gone, every
bit of it."
Then turning to Ulysses he said, "Stranger, will you work as a
servant, if I send you to the wolds and see that you are well paid? Can
you build a stone fence, or plant trees? I will have you fed all the year
round, and will find you in shoes and clothing. Will you go, then? Not
you; for you have got into bad ways, and do not want to work; you had rather
fill your belly by going round the country begging."
"Eurymachus," answered Ulysses, "if you and I were to work one
against the other in early summer when the days are at their longest- give
me a good scythe, and take another yourself, and let us see which will
fast the longer or mow the stronger, from dawn till dark when the mowing
grass is about. Or if you will plough against me, let us each take a yoke
of tawny oxen, well-mated and of great strength and endurance: turn me
into a four acre field, and see whether you or I can drive the straighter
furrow. If, again, war were to break out this day, give me a shield, a
couple of spears and a helmet fitting well upon my temples- you would find
me foremost in the fray, and would cease your gibes about my belly. You
are insolent and cruel, and think yourself a great man because you live
in a little world, ind that a bad one. If Ulysses comes to his own again,
the doors of his house are wide, but you will find them narrow when you
try to fly through them."
Eurymachus was furious at all this. He scowled at him and cried,
"You wretch, I will soon pay you out for daring to say such things to me,
and in public too. Has the wine been getting into your head or do you always
babble in this way? You seem to have lost your wits because you beat the
tramp Irus. With this he caught hold of a footstool, but Ulysses sought
protection at the knees of Amphinomus of Dulichium, for he was afraid.
The stool hit the cupbearer on his right hand and knocked him down: the
man fell with a cry flat on his back, and his wine-jug fell ringing to
the ground. The suitors in the covered cloister were now in an uproar,
and one would turn towards his neighbour, saying, "I wish the stranger
had gone somewhere else, bad luck to hide, for all the trouble he gives
us. We cannot permit such disturbance about a beggar; if such ill counsels
are to prevail we shall have no more pleasure at our
On this Telemachus came forward and said, "Sirs, are you mad? Can
you not carry your meat and your liquor decently? Some evil spirit has
possessed you. I do not wish to drive any of you away, but you have had
your suppers, and the sooner you all go home to bed the
The suitors bit their lips and marvelled at the boldness of his
speech; but Amphinomus the son of Nisus, who was son to Aretias, said,
"Do not let us take offence; it is reasonable, so let us make no answer.
Neither let us do violence to the stranger nor to any of Ulysses′ servants.
Let the cupbearer go round with the drink-offerings, that we may make them
and go home to our rest. As for the stranger, let us leave Telemachus to
deal with him, for it is to his house that he has come."
Thus did he speak, and his saying pleased them well, so Mulius
of Dulichium, servant to Amphinomus, mixed them a bowl of wine and water
and handed it round to each of them man by man, whereon they made their
drink-offerings to the blessed gods: Then, when they had made their drink-offerings
and had drunk each one as he was minded, they took their several ways each
of them to his own abode.
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