Book XXI

Penelope bringeth forth her husband's bow, which the
suitors could not bend, but was bent by Odysseus.

Now the goddess, grey-eyed Athene, put it into the heart of
the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to set the bow and
the axes of grey iron, for the wooers in the halls of
Odysseus, to be the weapons of the contest, and the
beginning of death. So she descended the tall staircase of
her chamber, and took the well-bent key in her strong hand,
a goodly key of bronze, whereon was a handle of ivory. And
she betook her, with her handmaidens, to the
treasure-chamber in the uttermost part of the house, where
lay the treasures of her lord, bronze and gold and
well-wrought iron. And there lay the back-bent bow and the
quiver for the arrows, and many shafts were therein, winged
for death, gifts of a friend of Odysseus, that met with him
in Lacedaemon, Iphitus son of Eurytus, a man like to the
gods. These twain fell in with one another in Messene, in
the house of wise Ortilochus. Now Odysseus had gone thither
to recover somewhat that was owing to him from all the
people, for the men of Messene had lifted three hundred
sheep in benched ships from out of Ithaca, with the
shepherds of the flock. In quest of these it was that
Odysseus went on a far embassy, being yet a lad; for his
father and the other elders sent him forth. Moreover,
Iphitus came thither in his search for twelve brood mares,
which he had lost, with sturdy mules at the teat. These
same it was that brought him death and destiny in the
latter end, when he came to the child of Zeus, hardy of
heart, the man Heracles, that had knowledge of great
adventures, who smote Iphitus though his guest in his
house, in his frowardness, and had no regard for the
vengeance of the gods, nor for the table which he spread
before him; for after the meal he slew him, his guest
though he was, and kept for himself in the halls the horses
strong of hoof. After these was Iphitus asking, when he met
with Odysseus, and he gave him the bow, which of old great
Eurytus bare and had left at his death to his son in his
lofty house. And Odysseus gave Iphitus a sharp sword and a
mighty spear, for the beginning of a loving friendship; but
never had they acquaintance one of another at the board;
ere that might be, the son of Zeus slew Iphitus son of
Eurytus, a man like to the immortals, the same that gave
Odysseus the bow. But goodly Odysseus would never take it
with him on the black ships, as he went to the wars, but
the bow was laid by at home in the halls as a memorial of a
dear guest, and he carried it on his own land.

Now when the fair lady had come even to the
treasure-chamber, and had stept upon the threshold of oak,
which the carpenter had on a time planed cunningly, and
over it had made straight the line,--doorposts also had he
fitted thereby, whereon he set shining doors,--anon she
quickly loosed the strap from the handle of the door, and
thrust in the key, and with a straight aim shot back the
bolts. And even as a bull roars that is grazing in a
meadow, so mightily roared the fair doors smitten by the
key; and speedily they flew open before her. Then she stept
on to the high floor, where the coffers stood, wherein the
fragrant raiment was stored. Thence she stretched forth her
hand, and took the bow from off the pin, all in the bright
case which sheathed it around. And there she sat down, and
set the case upon her knees, and cried aloud and wept, and
took out the bow of her lord. Now when she had her fill of
tearful lament, she set forth to go to the hall to the
company of the proud wooers, with the back-bent bow in her
hands, and the quiver for the arrows, and many shafts were
therein winged for death. And her maidens along with her
bare a chest, wherein lay much store of iron and bronze,
the gear of combat of their lord. Now when the fair lady
had come unto the wooers, she stood by the pillar of the
well-builded roof, holding up her glistening tire before
her face; and a faithful maiden stood on either side of
her, and straightway she spake out among the wooers and
declared her word, saying:

'Hear me, ye lordly wooers, who have vexed this house, that
ye might eat and drink here evermore, forasmuch as the
master is long gone, nor could ye find any other mark {*}
for your speech, but all your desire was to wed me and take
me to wife. Nay come now, ye wooers, seeing that this is
the prize that is put before you. I will set forth for you
the great bow of divine Odysseus, and whoso shall most
easily string the bow in his hands, and shoot through all
twelve axes, with him will I go and forsake this house,
this house of my wedlock, so fair and filled with all
livelihood, which methinks I shall yet remember, aye, in a

{* The accepted interpretation of [Greek] (a word which
occurs only here) is 'pretext'; but this does not agree
with any of the meanings of the verb from which the noun is
derived. The usage of [Greek] in Od. xix. 71, xxii. 75, of
[Greek] in Il. xvii. 465, and of [Greek] in Od. xxii. 15,
suggests rather for [Greek] the idea of 'aiming at a

So spake she, and commanded Eumaeus, the goodly swineherd,
to set the bow for the wooers and the axes of grey iron.
And Eumaeus took them with tears, and laid them down; and
otherwhere the neatherd wept, when he beheld the bow of his
lord. Then Antinous rebuked them, and spake and hailed

'Foolish boors, whose thoughts look not beyond the day, ah,
wretched pair, wherefore now do ye shed tears, and stir the
soul of the lady within her, when her heart already lies
low in pain, for that she has lost her dear lord? Nay sit,
and feast in silence, or else get ye forth and weep, and
leave the bow here behind, to be a terrible contest for the
wooers, for methinks that this polished bow does not
lightly yield itself to be strung. For there is no man
among all these present such as Odysseus was, and I myself
saw him, yea I remember it well, though I was still but a

So spake he, but his heart within him hoped that he would
string the bow, and shoot through the iron. Yet verily, he
was to be the first that should taste the arrow at the
hands of the noble Odysseus, whom but late he was
dishonouring as he sat in the halls, and was inciting all
his fellows to do likewise.

Then the mighty prince Telemachus spake among them, saying:
'Lo now, in very truth, Cronion has robbed me of my wits!
My dear mother, wise as she is, declares that she will go
with a stranger and forsake this house; yet I laugh and in
my silly heart I am glad. Nay come now, ye wooers, seeing
that this is the prize which is set before you, a lady, the
like of whom there is not now in the Achaean land, neither
in sacred Pylos, nor in Argos, nor in Mycenae, nor yet in
Ithaca, nor in the dark mainland. Nay but ye know all this
yourselves,--why need I praise my mother? Come therefore,
delay not the issue with excuses, nor hold much longer
aloof from the drawing of the bow, that we may see the
thing that is to be. Yea and I myself would make trial of
this bow. If I shall string it, and shoot through the iron,
then should I not sorrow if my lady mother were to quit
these halls and go with a stranger, seeing that I should be
left behind, well able now to lift my father's goodly gear
of combat.'

Therewith he cast from off his neck his cloak of scarlet,
and sprang to his full height, and put away the sword from
his shoulders. First he dug a good trench and set up the
axes, one long trench for them all, and over it he made
straight the line and round about stamped in the earth. And
amazement fell on all that beheld how orderly he set the
axes, though never before had he seen it so. Then he went
and stood by the threshold and began to prove the bow.
Thrice he made it to tremble in his great desire to draw
it, and thrice he rested from his effort, though still he
hoped in his heart to string the bow, and shoot through the
iron. And now at last he might have strung it, mightily
straining thereat for the fourth time, but Odysseus nodded
frowning and stayed him, for all his eagerness. Then the
strong prince Telemachus spake among them again:

'Lo you now, even to the end of my days I shall be a coward
and a weakling, or it may be I am too young, and have as
yet no trust in my hands to defend me from such an one as
does violence without a cause. But come now, ye who are
mightier men than I, essay the bow and let us make an end
of the contest.'

Therewith he put the bow from him on the ground, leaning it
against the smooth and well-compacted doors, and the swift
shaft he propped hard by against the fair bow-tip, and then
he sat down once more on the high seat, whence he had

Then Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spake among them, saying:
'Rise up in order, all my friends, beginning from the left,
even from the place whence the wine is poured.'

So spake Antinous, and the saying pleased them well. Then
first stood up Leiodes, son of Oenops, who was their
soothsayer and ever sat by the fair mixing bowl at the
extremity of the hall; he alone hated their infatuate deeds
and was indignant with all the wooers. He now first took
the bow and the swift shaft, and he went and stood by the
threshold, and began to prove the bow; but he could not
bend it; or ever that might be, his hands grew weary with
the straining, his unworn, delicate hands; so he spake
among the wooers, saying:

'Friends, of a truth I cannot bend it, let some other take
it. Ah, many of our bravest shall this bow rob of spirit
and of life, since truly it is far better for us to die,
than to live on and to fail of that for which we assemble
evermore in this place, day by day expecting the prize.
Many there be even now that hope in their hearts and desire
to wed Penelope, the bedfellow of Odysseus: but when such
an one shall make trial of the bow and see the issue,
thereafter let him woo some other fair-robed Achaean woman
with his bridal gifts and seek to win her. So may our lady
wed the man that gives most gifts, and comes as the chosen
of fate.'

So he spake, and put from him the bow leaning it against
the smooth and well-compacted doors, and the swift shaft he
propped hard by against the fair bow-tip, and then he sat
down once more on the high seat, whence he had risen.

But Antinous rebuked him, and spake and hailed him:
'Leiodes, what word hath escaped the door of thy lips; a
hard word, and a grievous? Nay, it angers me to hear it,
and to think that a bow such as this shall rob our bravest
of spirit and of life, and all because thou canst not draw
it. For I tell thee that thy lady mother bare thee not of
such might as to draw a bow and shoot arrows: but there be
others of the proud wooers that shall draw it soon.'

So he spake, and commanded Melanthius, the goatherd,
saying: 'Up now, light a fire in the halls, Melanthius; and
place a great settle by the fire and a fleece thereon, and
bring forth a great ball of lard that is within, that we
young men may warm and anoint the bow therewith and prove
it, and make an end of the contest.'

So he spake, and Melanthius soon kindled the never-resting
fire, and drew up a settle and placed it near, and put a
fleece thereon, and he brought forth a great ball of lard
that was within. Therewith the young men warmed the bow,
and made essay, but could not string it, for they were
greatly lacking of such might. And Antinous still held to
the task and godlike Eurymachus, chief men among the
wooers, who were far the most excellent of all.

But those other twain went forth both together from the
house, the neatherd and the swineherd of godlike Odysseus;
and Odysseus passed out after them. But when they were now
gotten without the gates and the courtyard, he uttered his
voice and spake to them in gentle words:

'Neatherd and thou swineherd, shall I say somewhat or keep
it to myself? Nay, my spirit bids me declare it. What
manner of men would ye be to help Odysseus, if he should
come thus suddenly, I know not whence, and some god were to
bring him? Would ye stand on the side of the wooers or of
Odysseus? Tell me even as your heart and spirit bid you.'

Then the neatherd answered him, saying: 'Father Zeus, if
but thou wouldst fulfil this wish: {*}--oh, that that man
might come, and some god lead him hither! So shouldest thou
know what my might is, and how my hands follow to obey.'

{* Placing a colon at [Greek]}

In like manner Eumaeus prayed to all the gods that wise
Odysseus might return to his own home.

Now when he knew for a surety what spirit they were of,
once more he answered and spake to them, saying:

'Behold, home am I come, even I; after much travail and
sore am I come in the twentieth year to mine own country.
And I know how that my coming is desired by you alone of
all my thralls, for from none besides have I heard a prayer
that I might return once more to my home. And now I will
tell you all the truth, even as it shall come to pass. If
the god shall subdue the proud wooers to my hands, I will
bring you each one a wife, and will give you a heritage of
your own and a house builded near to me, and ye twain shall
be thereafter in mine eyes as the brethren and companions
of Telemachus. But behold, I will likewise show you a most
manifest token, that ye may know me well and be certified
in heart, even the wound that the boar dealt me with his
white tusk long ago, when I went to Parnassus with the sons
of Autolycus.'

Therewith he drew aside the rags from the great scar. And
when the twain had beheld it and marked it well, they cast
their arms about the wise Odysseus, and fell a weeping; and
kissed him lovingly on head and shoulders. And in like
manner Odysseus too kissed their heads and hands. And now
would the sunlight have gone down upon their sorrowing, had
not Odysseus himself stayed them saying:

'Cease ye from weeping and lamentation, lest some one come
forth from the hall and see us, and tell it likewise in the
house. Nay, go ye within one by one and not both together,
I first and you following, and let this be the token
between us. All the rest, as many as are proud wooers, will
not suffer that I should be given the bow and quiver; do
thou then, goodly Eumaeus, as thou bearest the bow through
the hall, set it in my hands and speak to the women that
they bar the well-fitting doors of their chamber. And if
any of them hear the sound of groaning or the din of men
within our walls, let them not run forth but abide where
they are in silence at their work. But on thee, goodly
Philoetius, I lay this charge, to bolt and bar the outer
gate of the court and swiftly to tie the knot.'

Therewith he passed within the fair-lying halls, and went
and sat upon the settle whence he had risen. And likewise
the two thralls of divine Odysseus went within.

And now Eurymachus was handling the bow, warming it on this
side and on that at the light of the fire; yet even so he
could not string it, and in his great heart he groaned
mightily; and in heaviness of spirit he spake and called
aloud, saying:

'Lo you now, truly am I grieved for myself and for you all!
Not for the marriage do I mourn so greatly, afflicted
though I be; there are many Achaean women besides, some in
sea-begirt Ithaca itself and some in other cities. Nay, but
I grieve, if indeed we are so far worse than godlike
Odysseus in might, seeing that we cannot bend the bow. It
will be a shame even for men unborn to hear thereof.'

Then Antinous, son of Eupeithes, answered him: 'Eurymachus,
this shall not be so, and thou thyself too knowest it. For
to-day the feast of the archer god is held in the land, a
holy feast. Who at such a time would be bending bows? Nay,
set it quietly by; what and if we should let the axes all
stand as they are? None methinks will come to the hall of
Odysseus, son of Laertes, and carry them away. Go to now,
let the wine-bearer pour for libation into each cup in
turn, that after the drink-offering we may set down the
curved bow. And in the morning bid Melanthius, the
goatherd, to lead hither the very best goats in all his
herds, that we may lay pieces of the thighs on the altar of
Apollo the archer, and assay the bow and make an end of the

So spake Antinous, and the saying pleased them well. Then
the henchmen poured water on their hands, and pages crowned
the mixing-bowls with drink, and served out the wine to
all, when they had poured for libation into each cup in
turn. But when they had poured forth and had drunken to
their hearts' desire, Odysseus of many counsels spake among
them out of a crafty heart, saying:

'Hear me, ye wooers of the renowned queen, that I may say
that which my heart within me bids. And mainly to
Eurymachus I make my prayer and to the godlike Antinous,
forasmuch as he has spoken even this word aright, namely,
that for this present ye cease from your archery and leave
the issue to the gods; and in the morning the god will give
the victory to whomsoever he will. Come therefore, give me
the polished bow, that in your presence I may prove my
hands and strength, whether I have yet any force such as
once was in my supple limbs, or whether my wanderings and
needy fare have even now destroyed it.'

So spake he and they all were exceeding wroth, for fear
lest he should string the polished bow. And Antinous
rebuked him, and spake and hailed him:

'Wretched stranger, thou hast no wit, nay never so little.
Art thou not content to feast at ease in our high company,
and to lack not thy share of the banquet, but to listen to
our speech and our discourse, while no guest and beggar
beside thee hears our speech? Wine it is that wounds thee,
honey sweet wine, that is the bane of others too, even of
all who take great draughts and drink out of measure. Wine
it was that darkened the mind even of the Centaur, renowned
Eurytion, in the hall of high-hearted Peirithous, when he
went to the Lapithae; and after that his heart was darkened
with wine, he wrought foul deeds in his frenzy, in the
house of Peirithous. Then wrath fell on all the heroes, and
they leaped up and dragged him forth through the porch,
when they had shorn off his ears and nostrils with the
pitiless sword, and then with darkened mind he bare about
with him the burden of his sin in foolishness of heart.
Thence was the feud begun between the Centaurs and mankind;
but first for himself gat he hurt, being heavy with wine.
And even so I declare great mischief unto thee if thou
shalt string the bow, for thou shalt find no courtesy at
the hand of anyone in our land, and anon we will send thee
in a black ship to Echetus, the maimer of all men, and
thence thou shalt not be saved alive. Nay then, drink at
thine ease, and strive not still with men that are younger
than thou.'

Then wise Penelope answered him: 'Antinous, truly it is not
fair nor just to rob the guests of Telemachus of their due,
whosoever he may be that comes to this house. Dost thou
think if yonder stranger strings the great bow of Odysseus,
in the pride of his might and of his strength of arm, that
he will lead me to his home and make me his wife? Nay he
himself, methinks, has no such hope in his breast; so, as
for that, let not any of you fret himself while feasting in
this place; that were indeed unmeet.'

Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, answered her, saying:
'Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, it is not that we deem
that he will lead thee to his home,--far be such a thought
from us,--but we dread the speech of men and women, lest
some day one of the baser sort among the Achaeans say:
"Truly men far too mean are wooing the wife of one that is
noble, nor can they string the polished bow. But a stranger
and a beggar came in his wanderings, and lightly strung the
bow, and shot through the iron." Thus will they speak, and
this will turn to our reproach.'

Then wise Penelope answered him: 'Eurymachus, never can
there be fair fame in the land for those that devour and
dishonour the house of a prince, but why make ye this thing
into a reproach? But, behold, our guest is great of growth
and well-knit, and avows him to be born the son of a good
father. Come then, give ye him the polished bow, that we
may see that which is to be. For thus will I declare my
saying, and it shall surely come to pass. If he shall
string the bow and Apollo grant him renown, I will clothe
him in a mantle and a doublet, goodly raiment, and I will
give him a sharp javelin to defend him against dogs and
men, and a two-edged sword and sandals to bind beneath his
feet, and I will send him whithersoever his heart and
spirit bid him go.'

Then wise Telemachus answered her, saying: 'My mother, as
for the bow, no Achaean is mightier than I to give or to
deny it to whomso I will, neither as many as are lords in
rocky Ithaca nor in the isles on the side of Elis, the
pastureland of horses. Not one of these shall force me in
mine own despite, if I choose to give this bow, yea once
and for all, to the stranger to bear away with him. But do
thou go to thine own chamber and mind thine own
housewiferies, the loom and distaff, and bid thine
handmaids ply their tasks. But the bow shall be for men,
for all, but for me in chief, for mine is the lordship in
the house.'

Then in amaze she went back to her chamber, for she laid up
the wise saying of her son in her heart. She ascended to
her upper chamber with the women her handmaids, and then
was bewailing Odysseus, her dear lord, till grey-eyed
Athene cast sweet sleep upon her eyelids.

Now the goodly swineherd had taken the curved bow, and was
bearing it, when the wooers all cried out upon him in the
halls. And thus some one of the haughty youths would speak:
'Whither now art thou bearing the curved bow, thou wretched
swineherd, crazed in thy wits? Lo, soon shall the swift
hounds of thine own breeding eat thee hard by thy swine,
alone and away from men, if Apollo will be gracious to us
and the other deathless gods.'

Even so they spake, and he took and set down the bow in
that very place, being affrighted because many cried out on
him in the halls. Then Telemachus from the other side spake
threateningly, and called aloud:

'Father, bring hither the bow, soon shalt thou rue it that
thou servest many masters. Take heed, lest I that am
younger than thou pursue thee to the field, and pelt thee
with stones, for in might I am the better. If only I were
so much mightier in strength of arm than all the wooers
that are in the halls, soon would I send many an one forth
on a woeful way from out our house, for they imagine
mischief against us.'

So he spake, and all the wooers laughed sweetly at him, and
ceased now from their cruel anger toward Telemachus. Then
the swineherd bare the bow through the hall, and went up to
wise Odysseus, and set it in his hands. And he called forth
the nurse Eurycleia from the chamber and spake to her:

'Wise Eurycleia, Telemachus bids thee bar the well-fitting
doors of thy chamber, and if any of the women hear the
sound of groaning or the din of men within our walls, let
them not go forth, but abide where they are in silence at
their work.'

So he spake, and wingless her speech remained, and she
barred the doors of the fair-lying chambers.

Then Philoetius hasted forth silently from the house, and
barred the outer gates of the fenced court. Now there lay
beneath the gallery the cable of a curved ship, fashioned
of the byblus plant, wherewith he made fast the gates, and
then himself passed within. Then he went and sat on the
settle whence he had risen, and gazed upon Odysseus. He
already was handling the bow, turning it every way about,
and proving it on this side and on that, lest the worms
might have eaten the horns when the lord of the bow was
away. And thus men spake looking each one to his neighbour:

'Verily he has a good eye, and a shrewd turn for a bow!
Either, methinks, he himself has such a bow lying by at
home or else he is set on making one, in such wise does he
turn it hither and thither in his hands, this evil-witted

And another again of the haughty youths would say: 'Would
that the fellow may have profit thereof, just so surely as
he shall ever prevail to bend this bow!'

So spake the wooers, but Odysseus of many counsels had
lifted the great bow and viewed it on every side, and even
as when a man that is skilled in the lyre and in
minstrelsy, easily stretches a cord about a new peg, after
tying at either end the twisted sheep-gut, even so Odysseus
straightway bent the great bow, all without effort, and
took it in his right hand and proved the bow-string, which
rang sweetly at the touch, in tone like a swallow. Then
great grief came upon the wooers, and the colour of their
countenance was changed, and Zeus thundered loud showing
forth his tokens. And the steadfast goodly Odysseus was
glad thereat, in that the son of deep-counselling Cronos
had sent him a sign. Then he caught up a swift arrow which
lay by his table, bare, but the other shafts were stored
within the hollow quiver, those whereof the Achaeans were
soon to taste. He took and laid it on the bridge of the
bow, and held the notch and drew the string, even from the
settle whereon he sat, and with straight aim shot the shaft
and missed not one of the axes, beginning from the first
axe-handle, and the bronze-weighted shaft passed clean
through and out at the last. Then he spake to Telemachus,

'Telemachus, thy guest that sits in the halls does thee no
shame. In nowise did I miss my mark, nor was I wearied with
long bending of the bow. Still is my might steadfast--not
as the wooers say scornfully to slight me. But now is it
time that supper too be got ready for the Achaeans, while
it is yet light, and thereafter must we make other sport
with the dance and the lyre, for these are the crown of the

Therewith he nodded with bent brows, and Telemachus, the
dear son of divine Odysseus, girt his sharp sword about him
and took the spear in his grasp, and stood by his high seat
at his father's side, armed with the gleaming bronze.