A rather cryptic prophecy

Johann Heinrich Füssli, "Teiresias" (1785)

Then there came up the spirit of the Theban Teiresias, bearing his golden staff in his hand, and he knew me and spoke to me: «Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, what now, hapless man? Why hast thou left the light of the sun and come hither to behold the dead and a region where is no joy? Nay, give place from the pit and draw back thy sharp sword, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee sooth.»

So he spoke, and I gave place and thrust my silver-studded sword into its sheath, and when he had drunk the dark blood, then the blameless seer spoke to me and said: «Thou askest of thy honey-sweet return, glorious Odysseus, but this shall a god make grievous unto thee; for I think not that thou shalt elude the Earth-shaker, seeing that he has laid up wrath in his heart against thee, angered that thou didst blind his dear son. Yet even so ye may reach home, though in evil plight, if thou wilt curb thine own spirit and that of thy comrades, as soon as thou shalt bring thy well-built ship to the island Thrinacia, escaping from the violet sea, and ye find grazing there the kine and goodly flocks of Helios, who over sees and overhears all things. If thou leavest these unharmed and heedest thy homeward way, verily ye may yet reach Ithaca, though in evil plight. But if thou harmest them, then I foresee ruin for thy ship and thy comrades, and even if thou shalt thyself escape, late shalt thou come home and in evil case, after losing all thy comrades, in a ship that is another’s, and thou shalt find woes in thy house—proud men that devour thy livelihood, wooing thy godlike wife, and offering wooers’ gifts. Yet verily on their violent deeds shalt thou take vengeance when thou comest.

«But when thou hast slain the wooers in thy halls, whether by guile or openly with the sharp sword, then do thou go forth, taking a shapely oar, until thou comest to men that know naught of the sea and eat not of food mingled with salt, aye, and they know naught of ships with purple cheeks, or of shapely oars that are as wings unto ships. And I will tell thee a sign right manifest, which will not escape thee. When another wayfarer, on meeting thee, shall say that thou hast a winnowing-fan on thy stout shoulder, then do thou fix in the earth thy shapely oar and make goodly offerings to lord Poseidon—a ram, and a bull, and a boar that mates with sows—and depart for thy home and offer sacred hecatombs to the immortal gods who hold broad heaven, to each one in due order. And death shall come to thee thyself far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay thee low when thou art overcome with sleek old age, and thy people shall dwell in prosperity around thee. In this have I told thee sooth.»

ἦλθε δ᾽ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ Θηβαίου Τειρεσίαο
χρύσεον σκῆπτρον ἔχων, ἐμὲ δ᾽ ἔγνω καὶ προσέειπεν:
«διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ,
τίπτ᾽ αὖτ᾽, ὦ δύστηνε, λιπὼν φάος ἠελίοιο
ἤλυθες, ὄφρα ἴδῃ νέκυας καὶ ἀτερπέα χῶρον;
ἀλλ᾽ ἀποχάζεο βόθρου, ἄπισχε δὲ φάσγανον ὀξύ,
αἵματος ὄφρα πίω καί τοι νημερτέα εἴπω.»

ὣς φάτ᾽, ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἀναχασσάμενος ξίφος ἀργυρόηλον
κουλεῷ ἐγκατέπηξ᾽. ὁ δ᾽ ἐπεὶ πίεν αἷμα κελαινόν,
καὶ τότε δή μ᾽ ἐπέεσσι προσηύδα μάντις ἀμύμων:

«νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ:
τὸν δέ τοι ἀργαλέον θήσει θεός: οὐ γὰρ ὀίω
λήσειν ἐννοσίγαιον, ὅ τοι κότον ἔνθετο θυμῷ
χωόμενος ὅτι οἱ υἱὸν φίλον ἐξαλάωσας.
ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι μέν κε καὶ ὣς κακά περ πάσχοντες ἵκοισθε,
αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλῃς σὸν θυμὸν ἐρυκακέειν καὶ ἑταίρων,
ὁππότε κε πρῶτον πελάσῃς ἐυεργέα νῆα
Θρινακίῃ νήσῳ, προφυγὼν ἰοειδέα πόντον,
βοσκομένας δ᾽ εὕρητε βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα
Ἠελίου, ὃς πάντ᾽ ἐφορᾷ καὶ πάντ᾽ ἐπακούει.
τὰς εἰ μέν κ᾽ ἀσινέας ἐάᾳς νόστου τε μέδηαι,
καί κεν ἔτ᾽ εἰς Ἰθάκην κακά περ πάσχοντες ἵκοισθε:
εἰ δέ κε σίνηαι, τότε τοι τεκμαίρομ᾽ ὄλεθρον,
νηί τε καὶ ἑτάροις. αὐτὸς δ᾽ εἴ πέρ κεν ἀλύξῃς,
ὀψὲ κακῶς νεῖαι, ὀλέσας ἄπο πάντας ἑταίρους,
νηὸς ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίης: δήεις δ᾽ ἐν πήματα οἴκῳ,
ἄνδρας ὑπερφιάλους, οἵ τοι βίοτον κατέδουσι
μνώμενοι ἀντιθέην ἄλοχον καὶ ἕδνα διδόντες.
ἀλλ᾽ ἦ τοι κείνων γε βίας ἀποτίσεαι ἐλθών:
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν μνηστῆρας ἐνὶ μεγάροισι τεοῖσι
κτείνῃς ἠὲ δόλῳ ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ὀξέι χαλκῷ,
ἔρχεσθαι δὴ ἔπειτα λαβὼν ἐυῆρες ἐρετμόν,
εἰς ὅ κε τοὺς ἀφίκηαι οἳ οὐκ ἴσασι θάλασσαν
ἀνέρες, οὐδέ θ᾽ ἅλεσσι μεμιγμένον εἶδαρ ἔδουσιν:
οὐδ᾽ ἄρα τοί γ᾽ ἴσασι νέας φοινικοπαρῄους
οὐδ᾽ ἐυήρε᾽ ἐρετμά, τά τε πτερὰ νηυσὶ πέλονται.
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ᾽ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει:
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι συμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας ἐυῆρες ἐρετμόν,
ῥέξας ἱερὰ καλὰ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
ἀρνειὸν ταῦρόν τε συῶν τ᾽ ἐπιβήτορα κάπρον,
οἴκαδ᾽ ἀποστείχειν ἔρδειν θ᾽ ἱερᾶς ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι,
πᾶσι μάλ᾽ ἑξείης. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήραι ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.»

—Homer, Odyssey (XI, 90-137), translation by A.T. Murray


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