Endure O heart!: Odyssey 20, lines 10 – 21

I have chosen this passage from the Odyssey, as it is one that I have found can be comforting, especially during times of uncertainty. More often than not we have the capacity to adapt, and it is often helpful to refer back to this idea, particularly when the outcome of a situation may seem unclear or unpredictable. This passage serves as a reminder that there are some things that aren’t worth fixating on, and not to stress unnecessarily over the little details; trust that you are stronger and more resilient than you think, and believe that anxieties will eventually pass.
However, despite the fact that objectively this passage, standing alone, depicts a message of hope and resilience, when considered as a part of its wider context – Odysseus has realised that the slave-girls in his household are leaving to spend the night with the suitors – it takes on a far more horrific meaning. Once he has arrived in his household, he eventually murders all the suitors, as well as slave-girls, mercilessly, regardless of how they behaved individually. This juxtaposition between a quote full of wisdom regarding patience and acceptance, and Odysseus’ ruthless actions later on (as is typical of his character) illustrates well the ways in which Odysseus represents the fickle, complex, and darker side of humanity; his ability to switch so seamlessly between both rational and inspirational to heartlessly cruel is a part of what makes his character so fascinating.

Anouska Cowen, aged 16

He was doubtful regarding many things, in his heart and in his mind;
whether having leapt up he should prepare death for each [maidservant],
Or, might he still allow them to sleep with the arrogant suitors
for one last and final time? So his heart howled from within;
as when a dog steps around her dependent young,
barking at an unfamiliar man, and yearning to fight –
thus his heart snarled within him, out of indignation at their wicked deeds.
But, having struck his breast, he upbraided his heart with the reasoning:
“Endure, o heart. At other times, you have endured worse;
On that day when, with an irrepressible might,
a Cyclops ate my strong companions: And yet, you did hold out
so that your ingenuity could bring you out of the cave,
where you had believed that you would die.”

Translation by Anouska Cowen

πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ᾽ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα, κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ᾽ ἀγνοιήσασ᾽ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,     15
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα:
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ:
‘τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη: καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ᾽ ἔτλης.
ἤματι τῷ ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους: σὺ δ᾽ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις   20
ἐξάγαγ᾽ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.’

Text courtesy of Perseus.tufts

See the source image
by Alan Lee, from ‘The Wanderings of Odysseus’ by Rosemary Sutcliff

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