The Odyssey

How does Zeus promise to help Helios?


“In the small hours of the third watch, when stars

845 that shone out in the first dusk of evening

had gone down to their setting, a giant wind

blew from heaven, and clouds driven by Zeus

shrouded land and sea in a night of storm;

so, just as Dawn with fingertips of rose

850 touched the windy world, we dragged our ship

to cover in a grotto, a sea cave

where nymphs had chairs of rock and sanded floors.

I mustered all the crew and said:

‘Old shipmates,

our stores are in the ship’s hold, food and drink;

855 the cattle here are not for our provision,

or we pay dearly for it.

Fierce the god is

who cherishes these heifers and these sheep:

Helios; and no man avoids his eye.’

To this my fighters nodded. Yes. But now

860 we had a month of onshore gales, blowing

day in, day out—south winds, or south by east.

As long as bread and good red wine remained

to keep the men up, and appease their craving,

they would not touch the cattle. But in the end,

865 when all the barley in the ship was gone,

hunger drove them to scour the wild shore

with angling hooks, for fishes and sea fowl,

whatever fell into their hands; and lean days

wore their bellies thin.

The storms continued.

870 So one day I withdrew to the interior

to pray the gods in solitude, for hope

that one might show me some way of salvation.

Slipping away, I struck across the island

to a sheltered spot, out of the driving gale.

875 I washed my hands there, and made supplication

to the gods who own Olympus, all the gods—

but they, for answer, only closed my eyes

under slow drops of sleep.

Now on the shore Eurylochus

made his insidious plea:

‘Comrades,’ he said,

880 ‘You’ve gone through everything; listen to what I say.

All deaths are hateful to us, mortal wretches,

but famine is the most pitiful, the worst

end that a man can come to.

Will you fight it?

Come, we’ll cut out the noblest of these cattle

885 for sacrifice to the gods who own the sky;

and once at home, in the old country of Ithaca,

if ever that day comes—

we’ll build a costly temple and adorn it

with every beauty for the Lord of Noon.

890 But if he flares up over his heifers lost,

wishing our ship destroyed, and if the gods

make cause with him, why, then I say: Better

open your lungs to a big sea once for all

than waste to skin and bones on a lonely island!’

895 Thus Eurylochus; and they murmured ‘Aye!’

trooping away at once to round up heifers.

Now, that day tranquil cattle with broad brows

were grazing near, and soon the men drew up

around their chosen beasts in ceremony.

900 They plucked the leaves that shone on a tall oak—

having no barley meal—to strew the victims,

performed the prayers and ritual, knifed the kine

and flayed each carcass, cutting thighbones free

to wrap in double folds of fat. These offerings,

905 with strips of meat, were laid upon the fire.

Then, as they had no wine, they made libation

with clear spring water, broiling the entrails first;

and when the bones were burnt and tripes shared,

they spitted the carved meat.

Just then my slumber

910 left me in a rush, my eyes opened,

and I went down the seaward path. No sooner

had I caught sight of our black hull, than savory

odors of burnt fat eddied around me;

grief took hold of me, and I cried aloud:

915 ‘O Father Zeus and gods in bliss forever,

you made me sleep away this day of mischief!

O cruel drowsing, in the evil hour!

Here they sat, and a great work they contrived.’

Lampetia in her long gown meanwhile

920h had borne swift word to the Overlord of Noon:

‘They have killed your kine.’

And the Lord Helios

burst into angry speech amid the immortals:

‘O Father Zeus and gods in bliss forever,

punish Odysseus’ men! So overweening,

925 now they have killed my peaceful kine, my joy

at morning when I climbed the sky of stars,

and evening, when I bore westward from heaven.

Restitution or penalty they shall pay—

and pay in full—or I go down forever

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Zeus promises to smite their ship with a lightning bolt and cut into pieces.