They were gambling in front of the house.
Manservants and pages bustled about
Serving Suitors who just curse and carouse.
Few mix wine with water. I heard one shout,
"Clean down the tables with wet sponges! Rouse
Yourselves! And when you've done that lay them out
Again!" Some others carve mountains of meat.
I’m almost ready to admit defeat.
Then I thought I glimpsed Athena (disguised
As a man) long before the others did.
Sat among the Suitors I’ve long despised,
I daydreamed of how my father would rid
This house of these hopefuls. I was surprised
At the images - horrible, vivid -
The Suitors’ bloody bodies heaped chest-high
Slaughtered by the king they’d sought to defy.
As I sat brooding, I spied a stranger
At the gate, and went straight to greet him there.
Great Athena's stratagem to change her
Appearance at first kept me unaware
Of her divinity. For, the danger
Of my being overawed was unfair.
Faced with a mortal, I could be at ease
And act without feeling I had to please.
I said, “Welcome. You won’t believe how glad
I am to see you. Come drink, eat, and tell
Me the reason you’ve come - good or bad.
Please, sit close by me so I’ll hear you well.
My mother's Suitors upset me, I'm sad
To say, loud and insolent. Drunk, they'll yell,
Shout, and tell bawdy jokes. Just ignore it.
For decent company, they are unfit.”
At that moment, the great door opened wide
And the noise of feasting and merriment
Grew louder and reverberated inside.
Four of my mother’s Suitors hellbent
On having a good time sat down beside
Me and the stranger. It was evident
They’d drunk far too much from their boorish ways,
Rough, tipsy voices, and their glassy gaze.
One, Antinous, said, “What’s this? No music
Dancing or singing? Where is Phemius,
The minstrel? Tell him to play or I'll kick
His backside! Tell him, I, Lord Antinous,
Wants everyone to hear how artistic
He is with a sweet song harmonious
And pleasing. Get to it, Telemachus,
Get him to sing. Don’t look so serious!”
I nudged the stranger to edge down the bench
To get away from these aggressive drunks
And avoid breathing in the fetid stench
Of their sour wine-soaked breath. Their beards had chunks
Of vomit on them as they tried to quench
Their insatiable thirst for wine. Each dunks
His face in food bowls like pigs at a trough
Gorging so fast that they splutter and cough.
I whispered to the stranger, “What I say
Is, though I don’t mind a little excess
And feasting's cheap when you don't have to pay,
There, in some dark uncharted wilderness
May lie the bleaching bones - or perhaps they
Grind to powder in the surf relentless -
Of my father, Odysseus, long gone,
Whose wealth these greedy vultures feed upon.”
Another brute, Eurymachus, stood up.
He staggered unsteadily on his feet.
Swaying to and fro, wine spilled from his cup.
Eyes bleary, face white as a laundered sheet,
He bared his backside, wagged it like a pup,
And farted. “I thought I’d give you a treat!”
He said, in generous mood, his speech slurred
Staring down at his friends with vision blurred.
Lord Antinous giggled. “You are unfit
To grace this respectable, noble place.
That stink would curdle goats’ milk! I admit
You’re daring in baring your bum. Replace
Your face with your bum – there’s more hair on it!
The barefaced cheek you show is a disgrace!
I suggest you sit on your best feature
You ill-mannered, uncouth, ugly creature.”
Eurymachus retorted, “You're no Greek god
Yourself, Antinous! Fair Penelope
Will choose me over you - you drunken sod!
And, I can say, without hyperbole,
She'll be transfixed by the size of my rod
When I hook her! What a catastrophe
For her if she handles your tiny worm -
She’ll not even notice it twist and squirm!”
They guffawed and shouted, “More food, more drink!
Bring more bread - and more meat - and much more wine -
Lots - if you don't want us to cause a stink!
Bring on the dancing girls! We need some fine
Young maidens to be sent to us. Just think
What we can do with those girls, boys! We'll line
Them up take our pick, kiss them quick and grope!”
To the stranger I said, “I’ve lost all hope.
These brutes, sir, would pray for much longer legs -
For no amount of pleading would save them
If my father came back. They'll drain the dregs
Of the last of the wine, spit out their phlegm,
And belch foul breath smelling of rotten eggs,
I fear, before then. We will never stem
Rumours of his homecoming. But he's dead.
Now, sir, tell me about yourself instead.”
He replied, “I’m your father’s friend, Mentes,
On a voyage, here with my ship and crew.
Our fathers - your grandfather, Laertes,
And mine, were good friends, as he will tell you.
I came here because I've been told that he's
Home - your father, Odysseus. Not true
It seems. I know for sure he isn't dead.
But he’s not on the mainland, that's what's said.
Therefore, it’s more likely he's held captive.
Strange thing - there is a voice inside my brain -
So strong I know it's authoritative -
That tells me he will soon be home again.
Your father is clever and adaptive.
Thus, even though he's bound with iron chain,
He'll find some means of getting back home here.
You are his son? I see the likeness clear.”
Mother says I’m Odysseus's son,
But it's a wise child that knows his father.
I would prefer to be the son of one
Who'd grown old upon his own land - rather
Than of that unluckiest of men - none
Disputes - King Odysseus. I gather
My father's doomed to die captive or roam
The seas. Either way, he'll never get home.
When my father was here, life went on well.
Now, we don't know if he's dead or living.
It would be far better if they would tell
Us that he'd died in battle. In giving
Such news, they'd allow us to break the spell
He's cast over us, and start forgiving
Those who killed him. Then, I could build a mound
To his memory and our line renowned.
But now he's gone without a single trace.
I inherit nothing but sad dismay,
And it doesn't end with my grief, the race
To marry my mother is on. Each day
They eat me out of house and home. We face
Ruin by them while they pretend to pay
Court to my mother who cannot decide
Whether she will or not become their bride.
I’ll call a state assembly tomorrow.
Lay my case before them, and ask the gods
To help me. More in anger than sorrow,
Bid the Suitors depart. Reduce the odds
Ranged against me. Let my dear mother go
Back to her father. If her nature prods
Her to wed then he can give her away.
I’ll search for my father that very day.
Listen to poem:
Copyright © Alexander Blackie | Year Posted 2017