Odysseus, that endured much, sleeps.

Then, as he pondered, this thing seemed to him the better: he set out for the wood, and he found his spot near the water beside a clearing; there he crept beneath two bushes which grew from the same place, one of thorn and one of olive. Through these the strength of the wet winds could never blow, nor the rays of the bright sun beat, nor could the rain pierce through them, so closely did they grow, intertwining one with the other.

Beneath these Odysseus crept.

Without delay he swept together with his hands a broad bed, for fallen leaves were there in plenty, enough to shelter two men or three in winter time, however bitter the weather. Seeing it, much-enduring, noble Odysseus was glad, and lay down in the middle of it, and heaped over him the fallen leaves.

And as a man hides a brand beneath the dark embers in an outlying farm, a man who has no neighbors, and so saves a seed of fire, that he may not have to kindle it from some other source, so Odysseus covered himself with leaves.

And Athene shed sleep upon his eyes, that it might enfold his lids and speedily free him from toilsome weariness.

Homer, Odyssey 5.474–493 [trans. Murray]

ὣς ἄρα οἱ φρονέοντι δοάσσατο κέρδιον εἶναι:

βῆ ῥ᾽ ἴμεν εἰς ὕλην· τὴν δὲ σχεδὸν ὕδατος εὗρεν

ἐν περιφαινομένῳ· δοιοὺς δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπήλυθε θάμνους,

ἐξ ὁμόθεν πεφυῶτας· ὁ μὲν φυλίης, ὁ δ᾽ ἐλαίης.

τοὺς μὲν ἄρ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἀνέμων διάη μένος ὑγρὸν ἀέντων,

οὔτε ποτ᾽ ἠέλιος φαέθων ἀκτῖσιν ἔβαλλεν, 480

οὔτ᾽ ὄμβρος περάασκε διαμπερές· ὣς ἄρα πυκνοὶ

ἀλλήλοισιν ἔφυν ἐπαμοιβαδίς· οὓς ὑπ᾽ Ὀδυσσεὺς

δύσετ᾽. ἄφαρ δ᾽ εὐνὴν ἐπαμήσατο χερσὶ φίλῃσιν

εὐρεῖαν· φύλλων γὰρ ἔην χύσις ἤλιθα πολλή,

ὅσσον τ᾽ ἠὲ δύω ἠὲ τρεῖς ἄνδρας ἔρυσθαι 485

ὥρῃ χειμερίῃ, εἰ καὶ μάλα περ χαλεπαίνοι.

τὴν μὲν ἰδὼν γήθησε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,

ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα μέσσῃ λέκτο, χύσιν δ᾽ ἐπεχεύατο φύλλων.

ὡς δ᾽ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ

ἀγροῦ ἐπ᾽ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι, 490

σπέρμα πυρὸς σώζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὔοι,

ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο· τῷ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ Ἀθήνη

ὕπνον ἐπ᾽ ὄμμασι χεῦ᾽, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα

δυσπονέος καμάτοιο φίλα βλέφαρ᾽ ἀμφικαλύψας.

 

———

There is more of life in these twenty lines than I have ever read in any poet now living.

He once said to me, when I told him that when I read the Georgics I felt like (I was talking like a madman) I was reading it with the whole world…

“Yes, that’s very true — what you said here — if you excise “it with”. To read the Georgics is to read the whole world; somehow the whole world is there. The roughness of the earth, and pain, and terrible pain, and happiness, and labor, and everything, everything else. The afterlife, and the budding embryo and the sprouting leaf, all there simultaneously. And one thing I love is how this sunlit poem is steeped in the stars. In hot June or in cold February they are there in the night sky, giving instructions about what to do, and also full of the radiance of the eternal.”

I am torn between trying to touch, in pointing to them, the surprises that gladden, like Odysseus’ smiling at what he himself made, Odysseus that saw his little bed, Odysseus that had endured much, that was gladdened at it—what was it [τὴν]? Was it just the pile of leaves [χύσις], or the bed [εὐνή]? We can’t say!—and resolutely keeping my hand back from this thing too exquisitely formed out of God knows what, that might crumble into dust if I touch it.

And so I can say nothing, but ache for my friend who is dead and who will never comfort me again with his own fresh, living speech, and keep burning in my heart that moment in which I wished I were dead too.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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