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The Slaughter of the Suitors

Избиение женихов

A lone two horned moon hung above the town
When abruptly the mist was sharply sliced
And Odysseus stood high above the transom
To shoot his arrow through Antinoüs’s chest.*

A chalice fell from Antinoüs’s hand,
His eyes were swathed in a haze of dark blood,
A slight tremor... and the hero of that land,
Of the youth of Greece, no longer stood,

Gripped with terror, the others all arose
Reluctant to grab their shields and swords.
In vain! With the swiftness of steel-tipped arrows,
Came down these regal, derisive, keen words:

“What now, renowned princes of Ithaca,
Why are you in no hurry to meet your master,
And why is there no sacrificial display
As sacred sign of welcome on his altar?

Like a crash of cymbals you smashed the shrine
That was made for the tributes to the gods,
The fatted bull, and the sharp-horned ram,
And the golden wine from Cyprus’s hills.

You whispered sweet words in Penelope’s ear,
At night, lewdly fondled the servant maids —
Sweeter than the music of battling spears;
While I drifted in fear on the watery waste!

What now can any of you say to me?
“He abandoned his house without a line,
For, in the deep bottomless sea,
On his blind corpse, the fish to dine.”

So? For all the hard feelings you want to make
Things right? And offer me your palace?
I would not trade the whole Atlantic,
For today’s new graves in the burial place!

When the bell clangs, sure arrows will sing,
And measured, the slash of the sword will glint,
And you, princes all, cowardly or daring,
Will prepare to lie in heaps and grow white.

Here lies Eurymachus,** dumpy, fat
And pale... as white as a marble slab.
And like plagues of flies, the false virgins sit
Expectant with fear, captive and locked up.

Here lies Antinoüs... one glance tells all...
A heavy massy pile, like an elephant,
When with us of Ilion,*** he should have set sail
To be first among the heroes of the Iliad.

All will fall — fall — whether tiger or deer,
And never alive will any again stand.
Who is that red one? Flung up there
Still steaming and flowing in blood?

Well, everyone in my path, make way,
Fair-haired youth, my son, Telemachus!
The merciless gods above will show
The black path you now must use.

Again I fondly recall from afar
The golden moon riding on the horizon
And see along the frothing Pontic shore****
The grove of sacred palms in the wind.

Nut none who held lewd dreams of fondling her,
Have ever despoiled the royal sheets.
Like soaring gulls, the queen is white and pure,
Terrifying and dark in her loveliness.”
* In The Odyssey by Homer, when Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, is left by him for 20 years, her palace is invaded by suitors. They are led by the most persistent suitor, Antinoüs. She weaves a shroud for Odysseus’s father, Laërtes with the promise to choose one of the suitors when the shroud is compete, but each night unpicks the previous day’s work. When Odysseus returns, he slaughters the suitors including Antinoüs.
** In The Odyssey Eurymachus, one of the suitors, after Odysseus kills Antinoüs (leader if the suitors) pleads that Antinoüs was the cause of everything, but Odysseus sees through Eurymachus’s feeble attempt to pass blame, and kills him second.
*** Ilion is another name for the city of Troy. In the next line the word Iliad gives Odysseus’s speech an odd anachronistic effect. Either Gumilev ignored that The Iliad (which mean the story of epic about Illion) would have to be written after the fictional events his poem recreates, or he implies foreknowledge on the part of Odysseus, who knows already his life will be recorded in two great epics. With the word hero, the second interpretation seems more likely and thus the speech gives Odysseus’s tale a kind of fated or providential quality.
**** Pontus was an ancient kingdom in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Pontic shores are the shores of the Black Sea, near which stood Troy.

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