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First the masked Suitors enter from somewhere, dance on the stage, then exit into the dining hall.
EUM. Poor man, I think it would have been better for you to remain at the farmstead keeping vigil at my home over the herds of swine, than to seek what you are now seeking, but my master has ordered me to bring you here, and a servant ought to heed his lord’s bidding.
UL. Eumaeus, dear host, I know that a beggar’s life is a hard one, but my opinion is fixed. A desire has come over me to visit Ulysses’ home. I want to test whether the Suitors, surrounded by such great feasting, are willing to give a share to a needy guest. Nor shall I be completely useless about the house. For I know how to cook food, broil meat, set the fireplace for banquets, and even how to split wood; I can pour wine, and do all the jobs which humble servants everywhere perform for their rich masters.
EUM. Ah, guest, I pity you. Why place your life in serious danger? Do you want to die among the Suitors? I think news of their arrogance, injuries, and insults could penetrate to heaven even if it were made of cast iron, nor are people of your kind in the habit of being their servants. These are youths with wellgroomed hair, whose faces are all shiny for feasting and drinking, gentlemen of fine dress, culture, and leisure.
UL. No aspect of evil can rise up against me unexpectedly, and this grizzled beard of mine has endured far worse things. I am accustomed to hardships. Nobody can conceal a belly driven wild by hunger. For the sake of Belly ships on the high seas are outfitted with crews of armed men and bring ruin to poor mortals. [Enter Melanthius.]
MEL. See how one lazybones follows another as a companion! Birds of a feather! Impudent Eumaeus, where are you leading this wastrel, this regrettable abyss that consumes the contents of every table, this pit that devours the foodmarket? He has scratched his shoulders on many a doorjamb, more fit to polish off a meal with his tongue than to brandish a spear in his hand. If I wished to put him in charge of my little shegoats, he would put down a whole milkpail at a single gulp. Ever since he began to be a vagabond he has refused to apply himself to any honest work, but he would rather stuff his full belly and employ the basest tricks. Eumaeus, if you introduce him into the assembly of the Suitors, footstools will shamefully smash his side. [He strikes Ulysses with his heel.]
UL. [To himself.] How I am burning within! How willingly I would dash his head against the earth! But be patient of your bridle, my distress.
MEL. What is this rapscallion muttering to himself?
EUM. I beg you, Naiad nymphs, if my lord Ulysses ever offered you a leg of lamb or some fat young kids, fulfil this one prayer of mine, let this man return at last, let the god bring him home save, so that he can put down your boldness, Melanthius, and that you can search for food through the towns, while in the meantime some savage plague attack your goats, or they acquire a bad herdsman.
MEL. Hey, what words are this doomed dog growling? Someday I’ll ship him far from Ithaca so that, sold into slavery, he can earn some livelihood for me by his effort. Thus, Phoebus, let Telemachus be laid low by your shaft today, or let some Suitor remove him from our midst, so that hope of Ulysses’ return would perish utterly. Exit into the dining hall.
EUM. Guest, this man’s tongue is always accustomed to run ahead of his excellent mind, he always observes this custom. You how see how his first deeds correspond to his words. But see, the house resounds with pleasant sound, and here the entire band of Suitors is reclining at table. Music sounds within, and the dining hall is opened. [Enter the Suitors and Phemius.]
TEL. Eumaeus, it’s proper that you have offered yourself as comrade to this old man as he sought for my home. Offer him a basket of bread, provide him with food, and pour wine. Old father, you must ask each man for a share of the feast, for bashfulness does not befit a man in distress.
UL. Let the gods make you a happy man, Telemachus, and a rich one, and let everything turn out according to your desire.
ANT. Eumaeus, why did you bring this guest into the hall? Don’t enough paupers and wastrels bedevil this hall already? You begrudge it that we nobleman indulge in feasting, but yet you have invited this beggar, so that nothing will be left here?
EUM. Antinous, mine is not the common habit. I like to pick and choose what guest a house receives — unless he is perhaps a medical man, or an excellent craftsman or bard, or a singer or a poet born for entertainment. Such are certainly welcome throughout the world, and nobody calls one of them a beggar. But above all the other Suitors, Antinous, you are always abusing Ulysses’ servants and especially myself. But I pray that Mistress and Telemachus might live, Antinous. I don’t give a whit for your threats.
TEL. Eumaeus, restrain your heart’s legitimate impulse. Antinous’ harsh habit has always been to spar with words. Certainly, Antinous, you present yourself as a father to me, and love me as if I were your son, since you desire to drive off my guest from the house, which nobody should do. If it is my pleasure to give him something, have no fear but that I or some servant will grow angry with you. But certainly your enthusiasm has always been more for eating than for sharing.
ANT. [Brandishing a footstool.] Telemachus, control your ungovernable contempt, which you betray in speaking. If everyone were to give him as much as I, he could keep away from this house for three months.
EURY. My goodness, Telemachus has brought a polished man, for he is shrewd in the art of picking his guests, receiving into this house this hungry vagrant, neither sound of body nor serviceable for work, but rather a meaningless weight upon the earth, born for the sake of his gullet.
AGEL. And so I advise this fellow that he take him on a ship to Sicily and bring back a good price for his guest, sold into slavery. Meanwhile let the rest give food to Ulysses as he begs.
TEL. If anything is done here that displeases you, depart, remove from my sight this shame on our noble house, let it be free for my mother and myself. This is scarcely a public house, my father once built it. Eat your own food for a change, someday let a sense of shame overtake you. But if it pleases you to ruin one man’s home by your eating, destroy it, and I, having been injured, will call on the faith of gods and men, that they exact a penalty equal to your deeds.
ANT. Why is this young orator proclaiming to us? In truth, Telemachus, the gods have made you a windbag, but may the god not appoint you king of Ithaca, even if your father is the glory of your race.
TEL. Antinous, why should you grow sourbellied if I say anything. Certainly, if the god wills it, I would like the kingdom. Surely you don’t think it wrong for a man to reign? It isn’t. Rather, it’s the most glorious thing to be a king, who always surpasses everyone in splendor, wealth, honor, the magnificence of his home. But since my father is dead, now let Fortune take the proud throne of Ithaca where she wants. But I shall be lord and master of this palace and of those things my father bequeathed to me.
EUM. It rests in the hands of the gods, Telemachus, to whom it will be granted to wield Ithaca’s scepter. But nobody will snatch away your patrimony.
AGEL. Therefore, so that this house will be free for you, Telemachus, urge your mother that she should at length take a man to husband.
TEL. Agelaus, by Jupiter and my father’s harsh sufferings, whether he has already died miserably or whether he is wandering far away, I do not care about my mother’s marriage. As far as I am concerned, she can marry whomever she will want to, and furthermore I shall give a dowry and the greatest gifts. I myself fear to foist a husband on her against her will or thrust her from this house, who gave birth to me and nourished me in infancy, and I dread a mother’s curses.
UL. Noble master, I beg you give me a groat. For you do not seem to me to be the basest, but rather the best of men, wearing a royal aspect. And it is reasonable for you to give more than the rest, and everywhere I shall praise your name to the skies. Assuredly, I myself had a rich home, many servants, and many of the good things which usually make men happy, and I often bestowed a groat on strangers down on their luck. But the god who have all these things to me, took them away to my misery.
AGEL. Where did this pestilence come from, this plague upon our banquet? What whirlwind or what god evilly brought you here? You are overbold, a brash beggar. Stand away from the table. In the future ask those Suitors who will kindly give you that which is not their own.
UL. Ah master, what kind of attitude is this? I ask you, who won’t give anything in another man’s house, what would you give in your own?
ANT. Now I don’t think you’ll get outside without trouble — since it has pleased a rascally vagrant to chatter. [He hurls the footstool.]
UL. Hear, young wooers of Penelope, what my mind urges. When a man receives a serious wound fighting on behalf his wife, dear children, and home, he scarcely feels the pain, but I am struck because of my belly, an organ that has inflicted much harm on poor mankind. But if any god cares for the poor, Antinous will find death before marriage.
TEL. This is extremely praiseworthy, and fitting for Antinous, to kill a poor guest with a thrown stool. Has this deed satisfied your spirit, Antinous? If your dagger had pierced his side, your father would have constructed your bier before you were able to marry. Suitors, my boyhood is over, and now I am addressed as a man. Upright and depraved deeds do not escape my notice. I put up with a great deal as a boy, but keep away from me now that I am a man. If you desire to attack me with your swords, go ahead. For I would prefer to die once rather than always tolerate the ills I suffer.
AMPH. Antinous, I am ashamed that we struck the guest a blow. The gods are wont to walk the earth disguised as strangers, and to devise dire penalties for crimes. And the god will pursue his contempt, an avenger from behind. But, poor man, take what seat you want, eat what you want, and then either leave or keep quiet lest some one of these youths drag you through the hall and mangle you totally. Let quarrels be banished. Divine Phemius, I ask that you sing whatever the warmth of your mind suggests. ([The bard Phemius sings the following song.] Meanwhile the tables are cleared.)
Which of the Greeks should I take up my lyre and praise? The Atreids, or Achilles the son of Thetis? Or the two Ajaxes or Idomeneus, like to Mars?
Teucer, I shall sing of you, nor shall I remain silent about you, Diomedes son of Tydeus, greater than your father. But, like a star, bright Ulysses outshines them.
Who has the right to occupy a higher place than the wise son of our Laertes? He opened the citadel of Troy, disclosing the Fates.
Whether he has sunk in some black marsh, or wanders through distant foreign cities, when he had made it possible, he alone captured Pergamum.
Piteous husband of a chaste wife, are you alive? Ah, I pray you live, and shall keep on praying. Lo, the Greek captains have come home, but when will you return?
There is a squabble near to the dining hall.
IRUS Won’t you get outside, crazy old man? Do you want to be dragged out by the feet? Don’t you see them nodding to each other with heads and glances? Now they want to grab you and drag you out, but I am ashamed to do it. But I ask you to hurry, lest you make trouble for your self and lest your shoulderblades feel our hands.
UL. Poor man, I’m not doing or saying anything wrong. I am not jealous that more is give to you, nor is it right for you to be jealous of someone else, for you appear to be a beggar also. This wealthy house suffices for the both of us. But I think you don’t want to provoke me, even though I am a weak old man, lest you get my bile going, lest I bloody your chest and face. For if I did, tomorrow would be a more peaceful day for me, and I do not think you would return thereafter.
IRUS How he brags and chatters! Look how the wretch is like a wrinkled old coot, powerless with his tongue! If I wanted, I could pound this sluggard’s head with my fists, or beat his teeth out of their jaws. Draw near, so that all the Suitors might find out what kind of man I am, and might witness how greatly a young man surpasses an old.
ANT. Look here, friends, the god has never given us a nicer spectacle. Let our guest and Irus prepare to box, and let us look on. Listen, youths, let this be the battle’s outcome. Let the winner henceforth always be free to share our fat banquets with us, and let this house never have another beggar.
EUR. We second your motion, Antinous.
UL. Most noble lords, it is hard for an old man to fight against a youth. But that evil persuader hunger compels me, and my suffering belly, my harsh master and contriver of all daring, will force me to receive a thrashing. But, my princes, I ask you swear to me that none of you will lend support to rascally Irus or beat me with his hand.
TEL. Poor man, if the valor of your heart bids you go up against Irus, have no fear of anyone else. The man who thrashes you, or even touches you with a finger, will have a quarrel with plenty of us. I shall protect my guest, as will Antinous, and also Eurymachus and the rest of the Suitors.
EUR. So it is, Telemachus, we all give our words. [Irus shows signs of cowardice.]
ANT. What? Are you afraid, Irus? Or are you, a youth, afraid of an old man? Henceforth let you be ashamed to speak boastful words if you are terrified of this man, with his cold, sluggish limbs, broken by old age. Unless you conquer him immediately I shall take care to ship you far away from Ithaca to king Echetes, the worst of men, who will chop off your nose, ears, and lips, and will throw you in raw chunks to his dogs.
UL. [To himself.] My mind is uncertain whether I should immediately kill this coward or beat him lightly. But I’ve decided to hit him more lightly, lest someone here grow angry at me.
EUR. See what a leg the wretch shows through his torn clothing, what a chest! What muscles on his arms, what shoulders! I fear that now hungry Irus has acquired a great evil with his cheek. They come to blows, and dragis Irus off by his feet while the Suitors laugh.
UL. Receive this first blow in the fight, Irus.
IRUS Ah, spare me, I beg you hold your hand.
UL. [Taking him by the foot and dragging him out the door.] Now lie here, and from now on watch out for the dogs. Take care not to wound a guest with jeers hereafter, lest something worse happen to you.
EUR. Oh guest, may the gods grant your wishes, since you have driven this loathsome inhabitant from the house. Here’s a small reward for your courage. [Gives him a coin.] Ant. Beggar, now I praise you. Take your groat. The Suitors exit into the dining hall. [Amphinomus remains behind with Ulysses.]
AMPH. [Toasting Ulysses and handing him a coin.] Here, father guest. Whoever you are, I pray for your health. Let the gods, who are now striving to oppress you in all ways, henceforth give you lasting prosperity.
UL. Amphinomus, they say you are born of Nisus, whom I remember as a prudent man of good repute, nor do you appear dissimilar to your father in looks. Pray pay attention to what I, an old man, am saying. Of all the creatures who breathe or creep on the ground, none is more miserable than Man. He can enjoy a peaceful life, if only the kindly gods favor him and hasten to add an upright mind to his physical strength. But if they desire to make him miserable with catastrophes, he will lead a toilsome life amidst his miseries. A man is always of the disposition such as Jupiter gives him day by day, and each man has the fortune the gods will give him. See how I am a pauper now; once I seemed happy with my noble brothers but, relying too much on my father and our wealth, I worked much iniquity, wretch that I am. So let nobody think that right and justice are to be scorned. This is what the Suitors are said to be doing in this house, eating its substance and hoping for the wife of the man whom I do not think will long remain from his friends and his own hearth, indeed he now he is almost here. But let some god lead you back to your homeland, lest when he return he find you in his home. Pray to the gods that you do not encounter him when he comes back. For I fear that the heavy quarrel between him and the Suitors will not end without bloodshed and slaughter.
AMPH. Old man, forgive me for not thinking you a prophet. Let there always be garments and wine and feasting for you, until that man returns with so much terror. [Exit into the dining hall.]
UL. Poor boy, neither the god nor your own madness allow you to avoid your destiny. How bad companionship depraves a noble character and will involve it in a fatal outcome! I shall follow, and I shall always stay with the Suitors as a companion. I shall survey the youths’ crimes, I shall investigate my house and visit each and every place, like a shadow. [Exit.]
See, our youths have relaxed the former reins of modest living. Now shame’s restraints lie broken, and excess, the worst bane for a young man, begins to be considered a great virtue. Our youth is ashamed to be frugal, and everywhere great houses are collapsing in debt. Foul lewdness, elegant garments, and gluttony govern them, at once ruining and plundering everything. Now an uncouth avoidance of responsibility betrays their slothful spirit. This crowd goes to perdition, eager for the kitchen, its skin too sleek. Our well-kempt youths are more accustomed to stay awake nights to the sound of the lyre than to withstand the shriek of the hoarse bugle. In the past our island did not grow by these arts, her Ithaca did not send such a Ulysses to Troy, whom I hope Jupiter will return to us.