29 Mar THE ODYSSEY excerpt 10
So we stood there, trading heartsick stories,
deep in grief, as the tears streamed down our faces.
But now there came the ghosts of Peleus’ son Achilles,
Patroclus, fearless Antilochus—and Great Ajax too,
the first in stature, first in build and bearing of all the Argives
after Peleus’ matchless son. The ghost of the splendid runner
knew me at once and hailed me with a flight of mournful questions:
‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of tactics, reckless friend, what next?
What greater feat can that cunning head contrive?
What daring brought you down to the House of Death?
-where the senseless, burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home.’
The voice of his spirit paused, and I was quick to answer:
‘Achilles, son of Peleus, greatest of the Achaeans, I had to consult
Tiresias, driven here by hopes he would help me journey home
to rocky Ithaca. Never yet have I neared Achaea, never once set foot
on native ground … my life is endless trouble.
But you, Achilles, there’s not a man in the world more blest
than you— there never has been, never will be one.
Time was, when you were alive, we Argives honored you as a god,
and now down here, I see, you lord it over the dead in all your power.
So grieve no more at dying, great Achilles.’
I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
‘No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man— some dirt-poor
tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.
translated by Robert Fagles