Odyssey: "The Cicones"

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Odyssey: “The Cicones”

(The story begins in medias res: Odysseus has been journeying for years, and has landed at Phaeacia, where he tells his story of his journeys to its king: )
Odysseus, the great teller of tales, launched out on his story:
“Alcinous, majesty, shining among your island people,

what a fine thing it is to listen to such a bard

as we have here—the man sings like a god.

The crown of life, I’d say. There’s nothing better

than when deep joy holds sway throughout the realm

and banqueters up and down the palace sit in ranks,

enthralled to hear the bard, and before them all, the tables

heaped with bread and meats, and drawing wine from a mixing-bowl

the steward makes his rounds and keeps the winecups flowing.

This, to my mind, is the best that life can offer.

But now

you’re set on probing the bitter pains I’ve borne,

so I’m to weep and grieve, it seems, still more.

Well then, what shall I go through first,

what shall I save for last?

What pains—the gods have given me my share.

Now let me begin by telling you my name …

so you may know it well and I in times to come,

if I can escape the fatal day, will be your host,

your sworn friend, though my home is far from here.

I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, known to the world

for every kind of craft—my fame has reached the skies.

Sunny Ithaca is my home. Atop her stands our seamark,

Mount Neriton’s leafy ridges shimmering in the wind.

Around her a ring of islands circle side-by-side,

Dulichion, Same, wooded Zacynthus too, but mine

lies low and away, the farthest out to sea,

rearing into the western dusk

while the others face the east and breaking day.

Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons—

and I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth

than a man’s own native country.

True enough,

Calypso the lustrous goddess tried to hold me back,

deep in her arching caverns, craving me for a husband.

So did Circe, holding me just as warmly in her halls,

the bewitching queen of Aeaea keen to have me too.

But they never won the heart inside me, never.

So nothing is as sweet as a man’s own country,

his own parents, even though he’s settled down

in some luxurious house, off in a foreign land

and far from those who bore him.

No more. Come,

let me tell you about the voyage fraught with hardship

Zeus inflicted on me, homeward bound from Troy …
The wind drove me out of Ilium on to Ismarus,

the Cicones’ stronghold. There I sacked the city,

killed the men, but as for the wives and plunder,

that rich haul we dragged away from the place—

we shared it round so no one, not on my account,

would go deprived of his fair share of spoils.

Then I urged them to cut and run, set sail,

but would they listen? Not those mutinous fools;

there was too much wine to swill, too many sheep to slaughter

down along the beach, and shambling longhorn cattle.

And all the while the Cicones sought out other Cicones,

called for help from their neighbors living inland:

a larger force, and stronger soldiers too,

skilled hands at fighting men from chariots,

skilled, when a crisis broke, to fight on foot.
Out of the morning mist they came against us—

packed as the leaves and spears that flower forth in spring—

and Zeus presented us with disaster, me and my comrades

doomed to suffer blow on mortal blow. Lining up,

both armies battled it out against our swift ships,

both raked each other with hurtling bronze lances.

Long as morning rose and the blessed day grew stronger

we stood and fought them off, massed as they were, but then,

when the sun wheeled past the hour for unyoking oxen,

the Cicones broke our lines and beat us down at last.

Out of each ship, six men-at-arms were killed;

the rest of us rowed away from certain doom.

From there we sailed on, glad to escape our death

yet sick at heart for the dear companions we had lost.

But I would not let our rolling ships set sail until the crews

had raised the triple cry, saluting each poor comrade

cut down by the fierce Cicones on that plain.

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