The Odyssey, 21.388-22.125, translated with an eye on Homer's instinctively cinematic style. by Mike Solot The cowherd, Philoetius, quickly but quietly slipped out To fasten the gates of the courtyard. He picked up a rope He had seen on the porch—a ship’s cable made of papyrus— And used it to lash down the bar, then went back inside To the stool he had left. He sat with his eyes on Odysseus, Now stroking the length of his bow, tapping it here, Squeezing it there, turning it over and over While feeling for holes in the horn—in case it was worm-eaten, Riddled by grubs in the years he was lost in his wandering. Some of the suitors were poking each other and saying, “Look at the expert!” — “A beggar who really knows bows!” — “I’ll bet you he’s hiding another one like it at home!” — “Maybe he thinks he can make one!” — “A sponger, a tramp, A master of misery, turning it this way and that!” Another one, even more insolent, yelled to Odysseus: “Bowmaking ought to be easy for someone like you— As easy as stringing that big one you have in your hands!” In spite of their jeering Odysseus gathered his wits As he eyed his bow closely and hefted it, getting the feel— Then quick, like a minstrel, a master of playing the lyre Who easily stretches his sheep-gut up over the crossbar And wraps it around in a fresh roll of oxhide to hold it, So did Odysseus string the great bow, with effortless ease. Shifting the grip to his right hand he tested the string With a pluck: it twanged, shrill, like a twittering swallow. The suitors fell silent, aghast, then their faces turned pale As the deafening boom of a thunderbolt sounded above them— Zeus, son of Crooked-Mind Cronus, was sending an omen To splendid, enduring Odysseus. He listened, smiled, And still sitting down, he picked up the one naked arrow Eumaeus had left on his table; the others lay quiet, Waiting, still in the quiver—but not for too long. The suitors would sample them soon. Resting the shaft At the grip of his bow he nocked it, drew back the string, And aiming it closely, he fired: the bronze-heavy arrow flew All the way through, clean, without even grazing The tips of the handles. He instantly called out, “Telemachus! Look! The stranger you welcomed to sit in your hall As a guest didn’t shame you. Did I have to struggle forever To string it? Did I miss my aim—by even a little? All those who mocked me were wrong. I still have my strength. But now it is time we were giving these suitors their supper— A supper in daylight. Why not? And then comes the fun: The music, the dancing—whatever adorns a great feast.” He signalled his son with a look and a squinch of his brows. Telemachus slung on his sword, then reached for his spear In the rack by his throne—a javelin headed with bronze, Its blade now aflame in the flickering light of the fire. The master of guile, Odysseus, ripped off his rags. Grabbing his bow and his quiver, chock-full of arrows, He leapt to the threshold and emptied the shafts at his feet— All were still pointed and fletched—then yelled to the suitors: “Now that we’ve settled that contest, once and for all, I’ll try something new, a target no archer has touched. Give me the glory, Apollo! Make my aim true!” He sighted the sharp stabbing point of a shaft at Antinoûs Just as the young man was lifting his elegant goblet, A two-handled drinking-cup made out of gold, and embossed; He nestled the bowl in his hands and was swirling the wine Before taking a sip, unaware of the slaughter to come. But why should he worry with so many feasters around him? Who would imagine that one man alone against many, No matter how brave, could dare to provoke such a fight— Dooming himself to the dark, to a horrible death? Odysseus picked out his spot at the base of the throat And fired, hitting him square: the point and the shaft Punched all the way through, leaving the feathers lodged deep In the soft hollow pit of his thrapple. Antinoûs, stricken, Pitched to the side as he let the cup fall from his hands, Then suddenly kicked out a leg, upending his table And spilling his dinner, his bread and his succulent meats, Fouling it all with his blood—the lifeblood now spurting In jets from his nostrils. As soon as they saw him tip over The suitors all jumped from their chairs with an echoing roar, Spinning around in a desperate search of the walls— But there were no shields, no mighty spears to be grabbed. Rage, and a fury of words—that’s all they had To hurl back at the stranger, with everyone screaming at once, “You dare draw a bow on a lord?” — “Now you are done for!” — “That shot was your last!” — “You cut down a prince, our best, The noblest man on the island!” — “Vultures will eat you!” So they supposed—the fools!—for each one was thinking This man is no killer; he fired that shot by mistake! They couldn’t imagine that Death had them all by the throat. Odysseus narrowed his eyes down to slits as he shouted back “Dogs! You never believed it could happen—I’m home! You thought I was lost after Troy so you looted my wealth, You ravished my housemaids, dragging them into your beds, And you brazenly wooed my own wife—while I was alive!— As if you had nothing to fear from the gods or from men And their vengeance—already afoot, but stalking behind you Until it could strike. Now Death has you all by the throat!” Cold sweaty Terror came over the suitors. It grabbed them, Spinning them round once again—but now they were looking For any way out. Only Eurymachus dared to speak back: “If you are Odysseus, the Ithacan, finally home, Then all that you say is quite fair. There have been offences— Outrages, yes!—many right here in this hall And on your estates. But the culprit is already dead— Antinoûs—he was the one! He is to blame! He was the ringleader, egging on all of the others! But he didn’t lust for the marriage so much as the power— That’s what he wanted. He thought he could make himself king Over all of the island by killing your son in an ambush— But Zeus wouldn’t let him, and gave him the death he deserved. Spare us! We are your people! We’ll go round our districts And gather a levy of livestock and wine to repay you— In full—for whatever we’ve eaten and drunk in your house. And that isn’t all. We’ll make good the loss to your honor By giving you treasures in bronze and in gold of our own— Riches worth twenty good oxen from each man among us! Now wouldn’t that soften your temper? Of course, until then, We all understand, you have every right to be angry.” Odysseus, glaring out balefully, answered, “Eurymachus! Give me your riches, give me the wealth of your families, All of them, all that they have, throw in your treasures And taxes—not even then would I hold back my hands From the work of revenge, not till you’ve paid for your wrongs With your lives, every last one of you. Here is your choice: Face me and fight, or escape—but I don’t think you’ll make it. With Doom here already, Death can’t be too far behind.” Each of them instantly felt his heart thunk in his chest As he started to shake at the knees. Eurymachus shouted out “Friends! He’ll never let up with his murderous hands! The bow and the threshold are his, and he’ll fire those arrows Until we’re all dead! But think of the thrill of it—combat! I say we all draw our swords, pick up our tables To hold out as shields, and rush him together, at once, Driving him down off the threshold, away from the doors, So then we can run out and raise an alarm though the town. The sooner we do it the sooner he shoots his last arrow!” He drew his own sword, a finely honed, double-edged beauty, Waggled the weapon, screeched out a war cry, then leapt As he started to charge for the door—just at the moment Odysseus fired an arrow that stuck in his chest, Ripping down under his nipple and sinking its barbs In the meat of his liver. Eurymachus let the sword drop, Doubled, then crashed on his table, curling and writhing And scattering food on the floor. The goblet went too. His spasms of agony jerked him right over the edge And he fell to the ground, taking it full on his forehead. His legs were now twitching, both of them, kicking his chair And making it rock as a mist filled his darkening eyes. Now came Amphinomus, drawing his sword as he ran At Odysseus, hoping to drive him away from the door— But Telemachus got to him first with a spear in his back, Hitting him square at the shoulders: it sunk in between them And drove in so hard that the bronze came out bloody in front As he fell forward flat, thumping the ground with his face. Telemachus ran right around him, leaving his spear Where it was, in Amphinomus, swaying and casting its shadows; He was afraid if he bent down to wrench out the weapon A suitor would jump him and hack him to death with his sword. So he ran without stopping, sprinting as fast as he could, And when he was up on the threshold he let his words fly: “Father! I’ll bring you a shield and two spears right away— A helmet, all bronze, one that fits over your temples. I’ll shoulder my arms on the run and outfit the herdsmen With all that they need. We’ve got to be ready to fight!” Odysseus, his wits always working, answered him, “Run! Go! Get back while I still have some arrows to shoot! I can’t hold this doorway without them—alone and unarmed!” Obeying his father, Telemachus dashed to the storeroom, The one where the armor was kept. He took out four shields, Eight mighty spears, and four helmets—the helmets were bronze And tasselled with horsehair—and ran back as fast as he could To his father, still on the threshold, then put on his helmet And shouldered his shield. Both of the herdsmen armed too. All three took their stand by the cunning and deadly Odysseus Who kept up his shower of arrows, aiming and firing As long as they lasted, steadily picking off suitors; One by one they went down, falling and dying On top of each other, until all the arrows were gone. Odysseus rested his bow in a nook by the doorjamb And picked up his shield—a heavy one, four layers thick— Slinging it over his shoulder. He pulled on his helmet And tested the fit, shaking his powerful head, Whipping the horsehair around with a terrible menace While fisting a pair of his mighty, bronze-bladed spears. Mike Solot was born in Tucson, Arizona, where he now lives. His translation of the Odyssey is nearly completed.