Odyssey: The Ghosts of Elpenor and Teiresias

This story is part of the Odyssey unit. Story source: Homer's Odyssey, translated into English by Tony Kline. (2004).

The Soul of Elpenor

The first ghost to appear was that of my comrade Elpenor. He had not yet been buried beneath the broad-tracked earth, for we left his corpse behind in Circe’s hall, unburied and unwept, while another more urgent task drove us on. I wept now when I saw him, and pitied him, and I spoke to him with winged words: “Elpenor, how came you here, to the gloomy dark? You are here sooner on foot than I in my black ship.”

At this he groaned and answered me, saying: “Odysseus, man of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes some god’s hostile decree was my undoing, and too much wine. I lay down to sleep in Circe’s house, and forgetting the way down by the long ladder fell headlong from the roof. My neck was shattered where it joins the spine: and my ghost descended, to the House of Hades. I know as you go from here, from Hades’ House, your good ship will touch again at Aeaea’s Isle, and I beg you, by those, our absent ones we left behind, by your wife, by your father who cared for you as a child, by your only son Telemachus forsaken in your halls, I beg you, my lord, remember me. When you sail from there, do not leave me behind, unwept, unburied, and turn away, lest I prove a source of divine anger against you. Burn me, with whatever armour I own, and heap up a mound for me on the grey sea’s shore, in memory of a man of no fortune, that I may be known by those yet to be. Do this for me and on my mound raise the oar I rowed with alive and among my friends.”

He spoke, and I replied: “Man of no fortune, all this I will remember to do.”

So we sat, exchanging joyless words, I on one side of the trench, holding my sword above the blood, my friend’s ghost on the other, pouring out his speech.

Then there appeared the soul of my dead mother, Anticleia, daughter of noble Autolycus: she who was still alive when I left to sail for sacred Troy. I wept at the sight of her, and my heart was filled with pity, yet I could not let her approach the blood, despite my grief, till I had questioned Teiresias.

The Ghost of Teiresias

Then the ghost of ThebanTeiresias appeared, carrying his golden staff, ad he knew me, and spoke: “Odysseus, man of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, how now, luckless man? Why have you left the sunlight, to view the dead in this joyless place? Move back from the trench and turn aside your blade so I may drink the blood, and prophesy truth to you.”

At this, I drew back and sheathed my silver-embossed sword.

When he had drunk the black blood, the infallible seer spoke and said: “Noble Odysseus, you ask about your sweet homecoming, but the god will make it a bitter journey. I think you will not escape the Earth-Shaker, who is angered at heart against you, angered because you blinded his son. Even so, though you shall suffer, you and your friends may yet reach home when you have sailed your good ship to the island of Thrinacia, and escaped the dark blue sea, and found there the cattle and the fat flocks of Helios, he who sees and hears everything, if only you can control your own and your comrades’ greed. If you keep your hands off them, and think only of your homeward course, you may yet reach Ithaca, though you will suffer. But if you lay hands on them, then I foresee shipwreck for you and your friends, and even if you yourself escape, you will come unlooked-for to your home, in sore distress, losing all comrades, in another’s vessel, to find great trouble in your house, insolent men who destroy your goods, who court your wife and offer gifts of courtship. Yet, I speak truth, when you arrive there you will take revenge on them for their outrages. When, though, you have killed the Suitors in your palace, by cunning or openly, with your sharp sword, then pick up a shapely oar and travel on till you come to a race that knows nothing of the sea, that eat no salt with their food, and have never heard of crimson-painted ships, or the well-shaped oars that serve as wings. And let this be your sign, you cannot miss it: that meeting another traveller he will say you carry a winnowing-fan on your broad shoulder. There you must plant your shapely oar in the ground, and make rich sacrifice to Lord Poseidon, a ram, a bull, and a breeding-boar. Then leave for home, and make sacred offerings there to the deathless gods who hold the wide heavens, to all of them, and in their due order. And death will come to you far from the sea, the gentlest of deaths, taking you when you are bowed with comfortable old age, and your people prosperous about you. This that I speak to you is the truth.”

He finished, and I replied, saying: “Teiresias, no doubt the gods, themselves, have spun this fate for me. Come tell me the truth of this now. Here I see my dead mother’s ghost: she sits beside the blood silently, and cannot look on her own son’s face or speak with him. Tell me, my lord, how she may know it is I.”

Swiftly he answered my words: “It is a simple thing to explain to you. Whoever of the dead departed you allow to approach the blood will speak to you indeed: but whoever you deny will draw back.”

(1000 words)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments for Google accounts; you can also contact me at laura-gibbs@ou.edu.