The Spirit of Anticleia
Then she knew me, and in sorrow spoke to me with winged words: “My son, how do you come, living, to the gloomy dark? It is difficult for those alive to find these realms, since there are great rivers and dreadful waters between us: not least Ocean that no man can cross except in a well-made ship. Do you only now come from Troy, after long wandering with your ship and crew? Have you not been to Ithaca yet, not seen your wife and home?”
To this I replied: “Mother, necessity brought me to Hades’ House, to hear the ghost of Theban Teiresias, and his prophecy. No, I have not yet neared Achaea’s shores, not set foot in my own country, but have wandered constantly, burdened with trouble, from the day I left for Ilium, the city famous for horses, with noble Agamemnon, to fight the Trojans. But tell me now, in truth, what pitiless fate overtook you? Was it a wasting disease, or did Artemis of the Bow attack you with her gentle arrows, and kill you? And what of my father and son I left behind? Does my realm still rest with them, or has some other man possessed it, saying I will no longer return? And tell me of my wife, her thoughts and intentions. Is she still with her son, and all safe? Or has whoever is best among the Achaeans wedded her?”
So I spoke, and my revered mother swiftly replied: “Truly, that loyal heart still lives in your palace, and in weeping the days and night pass sadly for her. No man has taken your noble realm, as yet, and Telemachus holds the land unchallenged, feasting at the banquets of his peers, at least those it is fitting for a maker of laws to share, since all men invite him. But your father lives alone in the fields, not travelling to the city, and owns no bed with bright rugs and cloaks for bedding, but sleeps where serfs sleep, in the ashes by the hearth all winter through, and wears only simple clothes. When summer comes and mellow autumn, then you will find his humble beds of fallen leaves, scattered here and there on the vineyard’s slopes. There he lies, burdened with age, grieving, nursing great sadness in his heart, longing for your return. So too fate brought me to the grave. It was not the clear-sighted Goddess of the Bow who slew me in the palace with gentle arrows, nor did I die of some disease, one of those that often steals the body’s strength, and wastes us wretchedly. No, what robbed me of my life and its honeyed sweetness was yearning for you, my glorious Odysseus, for your kindness and your counsels.”
So she spoke, and I wondered how I might embrace my dead mother’s ghost. Three times my will urged me to clasp her, and I started towards her, three times she escaped my arms like a shadow or a dream. And the pain seemed deeper in my heart. Then I spoke to her with winged words: “Mother, since I wish it why do you not let me embrace you, so that even in Hades’ House we might clasp our arms around each other and sate ourselves with chill lament? Are you a mere phantom royal Persephone has sent, to make me groan and grieve the more?
My revered mother replied quickly: “Oh, my child, most unfortunate of men, Persephone, Zeus’ daughter, does not deceive you: this is the way it is with mortals after death. The sinews no longer bind flesh and bone, the fierce heat of the blazing pyre consumes them, and the spirit flees from our white bones, a ghost that flutters and goes like a dream. Hasten to the light, with all speed: remember these things, to speak to your wife of them.”
(Penelope, Telemachus, and the aged Laertes,
awaiting Odysseus's return in Ithaca;