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“The Slaughter of the Suitors” by Nikolai Gumilev (1886 – 1921)
Translated by Don Mager
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.”