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Greek Bust

Menelaus, the head of the table, overheard
And, speaking to both of them, had this to say…

“I would gladly live with a third of my wealth
To have those friends back who perished
Far from the bluegrass pastures of home. And yet,
Though I weep for each of them often in my halls,
Easing my heart, I do not grieve constantly —
A man can get too much of chill grief.
I miss them all, but there is one man I miss
More than all the others. When I think of him
I don’t want to sleep or eat, for no one
In the entire Greek army worked as hard
As Odysseus, and all he ever got for it
Was pain and sorrow, and I cannot forget
My sorrow for him. He has been gone so long,
And we do not know whether he is alive or dead…

I used to think that if he came back
I would give him a welcome no other Greek
Could ever hope to have — if heaven
Had brought us both home from over the sea
In our swift ships. I would have given him
A city of his own in Argos, built him a house,
Brought him over from Ithaca with his goods,
His son and all of his people — a whole city
Cleared out just for him! We would have been together,
Enjoying each other’s company, and nothing
Would have parted us until death’s black cloud
Finally enfolded us. But I suppose fate itself
Begrudged us this, for Odysseus alone,
That unlucky man, was never brought home.”

His words aroused in all of them
A longing for lamentation. Argive Helen,
A child of nobles, wept; Telemachus wept;
And Menelaus wept, the son of Atreus.
Nor could Nestor’s son keep his eyes dry,
For he remembered Antilochus,
His flawless brother, who had been killed
By Memnon, Dawn’s resplendent son,
And this memory gave wings to his words:

“Son of Atreus, old Nestor used to say,
Whenever we talked about things like this,
That no one could match your understanding.
So please understand me when I say
That I do not enjoy weeping after supper—
And it will be dawn before we know it.
Not that I think it’s wrong to lament the dead.
This is all we can do — cut our hair
And shed some tears. I lost someone myself
At Troy, my brother, not the least hero there.
You probably knew him. I am too young
Ever to have seen him, but men say Antilochus
Could run and fight as well as any man alive.”

And Menalaus, the king:

“No one could have put that better, my friend,
Not even someone much older. Your speech,
wise and clear, shows the sort of father you have.
It’s easy to spot a man for whom heaven
Has spun out happiness in marriage and children,
As he has done for Nestor throughout his life.
And now he has reached a sleek old age in his halls
And his children are good and fight with the best
So we will stop this weeping, and once more
Think of supper.


From Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey.

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