Homer’s Daughter

Robert Graves

To Selwyn Jepson, of course




ONE: The Amber Necklace

TWO: The Palace

THREE: The Departure of Odysseus

FOUR: My Father’s Daughter

FIVE: Washing Day

SIX: The Naked Cretan

SEVEN: The Greedy Suitors

EIGHT: The Council Meeting

NINE: Clytoneus Sails

TEN: The Old White Sow

ELEVEN: Arrows from Halius

TWELVE: The Funeral Feast

THIRTEEN: Aethon Goes Begging

FOURTEEN: Without Flowers or Flutes

FIFTEEN: The Day of Vengeance

SIXTEEN: Homer’s Daughter


The sons of homer, a guild of travelling minstrels who claimed descent from the famous blind poet and owned a large repertory of heroic sagas, were in classical times based on the sacred island of Delos. They went from city to city throughout Greece, Asia Minor, Sicily, Italy and North Africa, enjoying protection and hospitality everywhere. Their sagas were ascribed to Homer himself, though it was an open secret that many of them were of recent composition. Since the most ancient and famous of the whole collection was the Iliad, which concerned the Siege of Troy, the Sons of Homer enlarged the Trojan cycle with new sagas explaining what had happened before and afterwards. For instance, they composed a number of tragic “Returns,” telling how the Greek survivors of the ten-year war sailed home, but were either wrecked on the voyage or driven far out of their course, and returned only to find their wives unfaithful and their thrones usurped.

The Odyssey, though invariably ascribed to Homer, was composed at least a hundred and fifty years later than the Iliad and the atmosphere is altogether different: sweeter, more humorous, more civilized. The Iliad is a poem about and for men, the Odyssey (despite its male hero) is a poem about and for women. Whoever wrote it had read the greater part of the Homeric sagas which are still extant in whole or part, except the very latest, and seems to have worked from an original Return of Odysseus. But the saga has been recast, only the prologue and a few score lines being preserved more or less as they stood. The original Odysseus, it seems, found his wife Penelope living riotously with fifty lovers, all of whom he killed on his return to Ithaca, and after sending her home to her father in disgrace, was himself accidentally transfixed with a sting-ray spear by his long-lost son Telemachus, who had landed unannounced and did not recognize him. Odysseus’s “many cities,” mentioned in the prologue, have been reduced to two and the rest replaced by ungeographical islands borrowed from an entirely different story—an allegorical myth of one Ulysses, famous for his frequent cunning evasions of death. But once the saga element and the allegorical element have been isolated, what remains of the Odyssey is intimate domestic description of Greek provincial life in the far west about the year 750 B.C. The central character is Princess Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia—another ungeographical place.

Apollodorus, the leading classical authority on Greek myths, records a tradition that the real scene of the poem was the Sicilian seaboard, and in 1896 Samuel Butler, the author of Erewhon, came independently to the same conclusion. He suggested that the poem, as we now have it, was composed at Drepanum, the modern Trapani, in Western Sicily, and that the authoress was the girl self-portrayed as Nausicaa. None of his classical contemporaries, for whom Homer was necessarily both blind and bearded, deigned to pay Butler’s theory the least attention; and since he had, as we now know, dated the poem some three hundred years too early and not explained how a Sicilian princess could have passed off her saga as Homer’s, his two books on the subject are generally dismissed as a good-humoured joke.

Nevertheless, while working on an explanatory dictionary of Greek myths, I found Butler’s arguments for a Western Sicilian setting and for a female authorship irrefutable. I could not rest until I had written this novel. It re-creates, from internal and external evidence, the circumstances which induced Nausicaa to write the Odyssey, and suggest how, as an honorary Daughter of Homer, she managed to get it included in the official canon. Here is the story of a high-spirited and religious-minded Sicilian girl who saves her father’s throne from usurpation, herself from a distasteful marriage, and her two younger brothers from butchery by boldly making things happen, instead of sitting still and hoping for the best.


When my childhood had slipped by, and the days no longer seemed eternal but had shrunk to twelve hours or less, I began to think seriously about death. It was my grandmother’s funeral procession, in which half the women of Drepanum marched, lamenting like curlews, that made me conscious of my own mortality. Soon I should marry, bear children, grow stout, old and ugly—or thin, old and ugly—and presently die. Leaving what behind? Nothing. Expecting what? Worse than nothing: everlasting half darkness, where the ghosts of my ancestors and ancestresses wander about an unfeatured plain, gibbering like bats; skilled in all the lore of past and future, yet forbidden to profit from it; still endowed with such human passions as jealousy, lust, hatred and greed, but powerless to consummate them. How long is a day when one is dead?

A few nights later my grandmother appeared to me in a vision. Three times I sprang towards her and tried to hug her, but each time she stepped aside. I was deeply hurt and asked: “Grandmother, why will you not stay still when I try to kiss you?”

“Darling,” she answered, “all mortals are like this when they are dead. Sinews no longer constrain their flesh and bones, which perish in the cruel flame of the pyre; and the soul flits away like a dream. Do not think I love you less; but I have no substance.”

Our priests assure us that certain heroes and heroines, children of the Gods, enjoy an enviable immortality in the Islands of the Blessed; a fancy which the tellers themselves do not believe. Of this I am certain: that no true life exists beyond the life we know, namely the life beneath the sun, moon and stars. The dead are dead, even though we pour libations of blood for their ghosts to drink, hoping to give them an illusion of temporary rebirth. And yet—

And yet there are the songs of Homer. Homer died two hundred years ago, or more, and we still speak of him as though he were living. We say that Homer records, not that he recorded, such and such an event. He lives far more truly even than do Agamemnon and Achilles, Ajax and Cassandra, Helen and Clytaemnestra, and the others of whom he wrote in his epic of the Trojan War. They are mere shadows, given substance by his songs; which alone retain the force of life, the power to soothe or stir or draw tears. Homer is now, and will be when all my contemporaries are dead and forgotten: I have even heard it prophesied, impiously, that he will outlast Father Zeus himself, though not the Fates.

Brooding on these things at the age of fifteen, I grew melancholy and reproached the Gods for not making me immortal; and envied Homer. This was odd, certainly, in a girl, and our housekeeper Eurycleia often shook her head at me when I mooned about the Palace with a set, downcast face, instead of enjoying myself like others of my age. I never answered her, but thought: “And you, dear Eurycleia, have nothing left in store for you but ten or twenty years at the most, during which your strength will gradually decline and your rheumatic pains increase, and then what? How long is a day when you are dead?”

This preoccupation of mine with death excuses, or at least explains, the most unusual decision I have recently taken: of securing for myself a posthumous life under the mantle of Homer. May the Blessed Gods, who see all, and whom I never neglected to honour, grant me success in this endeavour, and conceal the fraud. Phemius the bard has sworn an unbreakable oath to put my epic poem in circulation: thus paying the debt he incurred on that bloody afternoon when, at the risk of my own life, I saved him from the two-edged sword.

As for my condition and lineage: I am a princess of the Elymans, a mixed race living on and about Eryx, the great, bee-haunted mountain which dominates the westernmost corner of three-sided Sicily and takes its name from the heather upon which countless bees pasture. We Elymans pride ourselves on being the remotest nation of the civilized world; though this is, indeed, to disregard certain flourishing Greek colonies planted in Spain, and Mauretania since we first made the boast—not to mention the Phoenicians, who, though non-Greek and addicted to barbarous human sacrifice, have some claim to be called civilized, and are established at Carthage, Utica and elsewhere on the African coast. I must now give a brief account of our origins. My father claims direct male descent from the hero Aegestus. Aegestus was born in Sicily, a son of the River God Crimissus and the exiled Trojan noblewoman Aegesta, but is said to have sailed to Troy at King Priam’s request when King Agamemnon of Mycenae besieged the city. Troy, however, was fated to fall, and Aegestus had been fortunate to escape death among the Achaean spears. Roused from sleep by his kinsman Aeneas the Dardanian, as soon as the enemy, breaking into Troy, began to massacre the drowsy inhabitants, he led a party of Trojans out through the Scaean Gate and away to Abydus; Abydus being a fortress on the Hellespont where (so they say), mindful of a prophetic warning given by his mother, he kept three well-provisioned ships moored in readiness. Aeneas also escaped. Cutting his way through the Achaean forces to Mount Ida, he made preparations there for embarking his Dardanian subjects in a fleet beached at Percote, and presently followed in Aegestus’s wake.

A fresh gale carried Aegestus south-westward across the Aegean Sea, past Cythera, Aphrodite’s island; and westward across the Sicanian Sea, until he sighted Etna, the ever-burning mountain, which rises on the opposite side of Sicily from us. Here he landed and drew water for his fleet before steering south to round Cape Pelorus. Five days later, the Aegadean Islands rose into view, and he thankfully beached his ships in the landlocked bay of Rheithrum, under the shadow of Mount Eryx, where he had been born. A blue halcyon bird skimmed past the ships’ sterns, and at this sign of favour from the Goddess Thetis, who calms the sea, Aegestus burned them in her honour; but first he prudently unloaded all the cargo, cordage, sails, metal, and other objects which might be of use to him ashore. It was to commemorate this sacrifice, offered some four hundred years ago, that my parents named me Nausicaa, which means “Burning of Ships”.

No other Greek-speaking colonists had as yet settled in Western Sicily. The entire island, except for a few Cretan colonies, was then inhabited by Sicans, an Iberian race, many of whom had befriended Aegestus and his mother in their strong city of Eryx, which nestles on the mountain’s knees. Aegestus approached their King, his foster-father, with noble gifts of cauldrons, tripods, and bronze weapons fetched from Troy, interceding for the Trojan refugees; and though, being a naturally morose and self-sufficient race, the Sicans of Eryx did not disguise their suspicions, the King at last persuaded his council to let Aegestus build himself a city nearly at the top of the mountain. Aegestus named it Hypereia, or “Upper Town”; and bought from the Sicans a large stock of sheep, goats, cattle and hogs. Soon Aeneas arrived with six more ships, on his way to Latium, and proved his friendship by helping Aegestus to complete the city walls. He also founded the Temple of Aphrodite on the summit—an erotic institution in favour of which I have little to say; though Aeneas’s act was a pious one, Aphrodite being his mother. At first the people of Hypereia lived on neighbourly terms with those of Eryx, who showed them all the riches of the mountain and, in return, were taught the finer mysteries of smithcraft and carpentry, besides the art of harpooning tunny and swordfish from a platform set halfway up the ship’s mast. The two nations being united in their devotion to the Sican Mountain Goddess Elyme—whom our people identified with Aphrodite, though she bore a far closer resemblance to the Goddess Alphito of Arcadia—we are now known as Elymans.

Some seven generations later, another element, the Phocaean, was added to the Elyman nation thus formed; and by then the proud Achaean cities of the Peloponnese, in which the destruction of Troy had been planned, lay ruined. Barbarous Dorians, the so-called Sons of Hercules, wielding iron weapons, and with iron hearts, had swept through the Isthmus of Corinth, burned citadel after citadel, and driven the Achaeans from their rich pastures and cornfields into the mountainous regions of the North; there they still survive, dwindled and inglorious. The elder inhabitants of Greece, however—Pelasgians, Ionians and Aeolians—as many as loved liberty and possessed ships, hastily gathered together their treasures and set sail to find new homes overseas, especially on the coast of Asia Minor, where they had often before gone trading. Among these emigrants were Phocians from Mount Parnassus, descendants of Philoctetes the archer, whose arrows accounted for Prince Paris at Troy; but two Athenian noblemen led them. Their new city of Phocaea, built on the mainland behind Chios, became famous for its fifty-oared merchant-galleys which ventured across the length and breadth of the Mediterranean: as far westward as the Pillars of Hercules, and as far northward as the mouth of the Po. Geryon, King of Tartessus in Southern Spain, having taken a liking to certain honest Phocaean traders, invited these to settle in his country, and promised to build them a city. They agreed with joy, and sailed home to fetch their wives, children, household goods and sacred images; expecting to find the city walls already raised to receive them when they landed in the following summer.

Yet the Blessed Gods disposed otherwise. The colonists sailing in convoy, their prows wreathed in myrtle, were blown off course by a north-easterly gale and cast ashore among the lotus-eating Nasamonians of Libya. Though they saved five of their seven ships, these proved so unseaworthy that, taking advantage of a brisk south wind, they steered for Sicily, the nearest land where it would be possible to refit. Mount Eryx was reached in safety, with every hold deep in water, and they beached the flotilla at Rheithrum, not having lost a man, though their provisions were spoilt. Believing that the God Poseidon had designed them to settle hereabouts rather than in Tartessus—the myrtle on their prows forbade their return—they came as suppliants to the King of Hypereia, who magnanimously forgave them the wrongs which their ancestors had done to the Trojans. It is said, nevertheless, that the captain and crew of one ship attempted to sail back to Asia Minor, but they had gone no farther than a mile and a half before Poseidon transformed the ship into a rock; and there she still rides for all the world to see. They call her the “Rock of Evil Counsel”, and also add that Poseidon threatened to topple down the summit of Eryx on the heads of any other would-be deserters.

Now, the Hypereians had built a hamlet on the northern foothills of Eryx and named it Aegesta, after their ancestress; as they also named its two streams Simoïs and Scamander, after the Trojan rivers mentioned by Homer. Here, with the permission of the King of Eryx, they had set up a hero shrine for the ghost of Anchises the Dardanian, Aeneas’s father, who was said to have died during the building of Hypereia. The Phocaeans using Sican labour and adopting the Sican style, soon enlarged this village to a city, over which a prince of Hypereia was appointed to rule. But the wild Sicans, resentful of this new encroachment on their grazing and hunting grounds, did not hesitate to ambush and kill the newcomers; and Eurymedon, the Sican King of Eryx, refused to intervene, declaring that he had never consented to the Phocaean occupation of Aegesta. He even lent his compatriots secret help; and this naturally precipitated a quarrel between the cities of Eryx and Hypereia. Armed clashes led to a full-scale war, in which Eurymedon was soundly defeated. The Hypereians seized Eryx, proclaiming their own King “Father of the Elyman League”—Eryx, Hypereia, and Aegesta—and ordered the city councils to foster intermarriage between the three races. Our blood is therefore mixed, yet our ruling tongue is Ionian Greek, touched a little with Aeolian; and though remotely placed, we are far better people in every way than the Dorians of the Peloponnese, who camp sluttishly among the blackened ruins of the beautiful cities celebrated in Homer’s songs.

This land of ours is good and its seas full of fish—especially tunny, the firm flesh of which has always been our staple food; but if we are entitled to one complaint, it is that the greater part of the Sican nation has obstinately refused to join our Elyman League. The Sicans are wild, tall, sturdy, uncouth, tattooed, unhospitable, prolific folk, who respect neither travellers nor suppliants, and live like beasts in mountain caves, each family apart, with its flocks. They acknowledge no king, and no deity except the Goddess Elyme, worshipped as a fertile, prescient sow, and no law but their own inclination; moreover, they brew no liquor, use neither iron nor bronze weapons, never venture out to sea, keep no markets, and will not even shrink at certain seasons from the taste of human flesh. With these abominable savages—I am ashamed to call them our cousins—we are neither at peace nor at war; wise travellers, however, pass through their land only in well-armed companies, sending hounds ahead to raise the alarm should an ambush have been laid in any forest or narrow defile.

At least we had the good fortune to live out of the way of the Sicel invasion, which took place shortly before the arrival of the Phocaeans. The Sicels are Illyrians, of an entirely different stock from the Sicans, who crossed the Strait of Messina on rafts and, being busy and numerous, soon possessed themselves of Central and Southern Sicily, swallowing up the settlements planted there by Cretans and Achaeans. But all war bands exploring in our direction were driven off with heavy loss—they are not so sturdily built as the Sicans, nor such formidable fighters—and ever since, by tacit agreement, the Sicels have kept within their own boundaries, leaving us alone. Their commerce is mainly with the Greeks of Euboea and Corinth. A few small Phoenician trading posts on promontories or small islands off the north coast have caused us no trouble so far; for, as my father says, “Trade begets trade.” And now Greek colonies are being planted to the east of us, and on the toe of Italy; which pleases us well.

To come down to more recent times: my great-grandfather, King Nausithous, son of Eurymedon’s daughter, called a council of all the Elymans to deliberate on a vision which had been granted him in a dream. He saw an eagle swoop from the top of Eryx and skim the sea, in company with a flock of white-winged sea mews, some of them on his right hand, some on his left. This vision the soothsayers interpreted as a divine command to quit Hypereia and henceforth make his living from the sea, on a spit of land between two harbours. Leaving behind a strong force to guard his cattlemen, shepherds and swineherds against the depredations of Sican bandits, Nausithous led down the greater part of the Hypereians to a sickle-shaped peninsula two miles south of Rheithrum, where he built the town of Drepanum. According to a local tradition it was here that the ancient God Cronus threw into the sea the adamantine sickle with which he had castrated his father Uranus; and old men sometimes whisper darkly: “One day it will be fetched up in a net; Apollo is fated to use it against his father Zeus.”

Drepanum was a splendid site for Nausithous’s new town. The neck of the peninsula could be protected by a wall from Sican raids, and of the two harbours specified by the oracle, one sheltered ships against north-westerly gales, the other against south-easterly ones. Since, therefore, the Phocaeans of Aegesta, whom Nausithous invited to join him in this enterprise, had not forgotten their sea skill, he was soon sending fifty-oared ships on long voyages in every direction. The chief Elyman exports, then as now, were wine, cheeses, honey, fleeces, sun-dried tunny and swordfish, and other food products; as well as folding bedsteads of cypress wood, in the manufacture of which we excel, embroidered clothes of the finest wool, and salt from our salt pans. These goods were exchanged for Cyprian copper, Spanish tin, Chalybean iron, Cretan wine, Corinthian painted ware, African sponges and ivory, and many other luxuries. Our two sandy harbours proved of great advantage, since if ever the weather shows signs of changing, ships can be rowed from one to the other, and hauled up beyond reach of the waves. In short, we have grown rich and prosperous, and are welcomed by all nations with whom we trade as honest men and no pirates. Rheithrum, however, is now rarely used as a harbour, not being defensible against raids, and has of late been silting up; but we sacrifice there annually to Aphrodite and Poseidon, and graze our cattle on the neighbouring plain.

My father, King Alpheides, married the daughter of an ally, the Lord of Hiera, largest of the Aegadean Islands. She bore him four sons and one daughter, myself. At the point where this story begins, Laodamas, my eldest brother, was already married to Ctimene of Bucinna, another island of the Aegadean group; Halius, the second, driven from home by my father’s displeasure, had gone to live among the Sicels of Minoa; Clytoneus, the third, had shaved his first manly hair and taken arms. I was three years older than Clytoneus, and unmarried—but by choice, not from lack of suitors, though I may as well confess that I am neither tall nor particularly beautiful. My fourth brother, Telegonus, the child of our mother’s middle age, still lived in the women’s quarters, rolling nuts or riding a dappled hobbyhorse, and being threatened with King Echetus, the bogeyman, if he did not behave. In the poem which I have now completed my parents appear as King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Drepane—the royal couple who welcomed Jason and Medea in the Song of the Golden Fleece. I chose these names partly because “Alcinous” means “Strong-minded”, and my father prides himself most on his strong-mindedness; partly because Arete (if you shorten the second e) means “Staunchness”, which is my mother’s ruling virtue; and partly because, at the crisis of my drama, I was forced to play Medea’s part. So much, then, for that.


One luckless evening, three years ago, when my brother Laodamas had been married for only a short time, the southern wind we call sirocco began to blow, and a great cloud brooded heavily on the shoulders of Mount Eryx. The effect was, as usual, to wither the plants in the garden, put my hair out of curl and make everyone touchy and quarrelsome: my sister-in-law Ctimene not the least That night, as soon as she found herself alone with Laodamas in their stifling bedroom, which was on the upper storey overlooking the banqueting court, she began to reproach him for his idleness and lack of enterprise. Ctimene enlarged on the great value of her dowry, and asked him whether he were not ashamed to spend his days hunting or fishing, instead of winning wealth by bold adventures overseas.

Laodamas laughed, and answered lightly that she had only herself to blame: it was her fresh beauty that kept him at home. “Once I tire of your delectable body, Wife, I shall certainly sail away—as far as any ship can take me, to the Land of Colchis and the Stables of the Sun, if need be—but that time is not come.”

Ctimene said crossly: “Yes, you do not seem destined to tire of my embraces for a long while yet, the way you pester me with your nightly attentions. But at the first streak of dawn, off you go, eager only for your hounds, your boar spear, and your bow. I never see you again until nightfall, when you eat like a wolf, drink like a porpoise, play a foxy game or two of chess, and lurch along to bed once more to smother me with your hot, bearish caresses.”

“You would not think much of me if I failed in my husbandly duty.”

“A husband’s duty is not performed only between linen sheets.”

It was as when a long-armed boxer manages to keep his small, hard-hitting opponent at a distance with left-handed jabs, until at last he slips under the tall fellow’s guard and pummels him below the heart. Laodamas grew rattled, but showed that he, too, was no novice at in-fighting. “Do you expect me to lounge around the house all day,” he asked, “telling you stories while you spin, skeining the wool, and running errands for you? I intend to remain at Drepanum until you have obliged me by becoming pregnant—if, indeed, you are not barren, like your aunt and your elder sister—but while I am still here it is certainly a manlier pastime to hunt wild goats or wild boars than to kill the hours between breakfast and supper as most young men of my age and rank do: namely to drink, dice, dance, gossip in the market place, fish with line, hook and float from the quay, and play quoits in the courtyard. Or perhaps you would prefer me to spin and weave myself, as Hercules did in Lydia, when Queen Omphale bewitched him?”

“I want a necklace,” said Ctimene suddenly. “I want a beautiful necklace of Hyperborean amber, with nubbly gold beads between the lumps, and a golden clasp shaped like two serpents with interlocking tails.”

“Oh, you do? And where is such a treasure to be had?”

“Eurymachus’s mother already owns one, and Captain Dymas has promised another to his daughter Procne, Nausicaa’s friend, when he returns from his next voyage to Sandy Pylus.”

“Do you perhaps wish me to ambush his ship as she sails home past Motya and steal the necklace for you—in the Bucinnan style?”

“I refuse to understand your joke against my island—if it is supposed to be a joke. No, do not dare kiss me! The wind is cruel and I have a headache. Go away, and sleep elsewhere. Dawn, I hope, will find you in a more reasonable frame of mind.”

“I may not kiss my wife good night, is this what you mean? Take care that I do not send you back to your father, dowry and all!”

“Dowry and all? That will not be easy. Of the two hundred copper ingots and twenty bales of linen salvaged from the Sidonian ship which my father found drifting, crewless, off Bucinna…”

“Drifting, do you say? He murdered the entire crew in traditional Bucinnan style; as is well known in every market place of Sicily.”

“…of copper ingots and bales of linen, I repeat, you invested nearly half in a Libyan trading venture. They were to be bartered for herb Benjamin, gold dust and ostrich eggs; but I doubt whether you will see them again.”

“Women can never believe that once a ship has raised anchor and spread her sails she will ever make port.”

“I am not questioning the seaworthiness of the ship, but only the integrity of her captain, whom you were a fool to trust on the advice of your friend Eurymachus. It would not be the first time that a Libyan defaulted, and if anyone tells me that Eurymachus demanded a commission for his part in the fraud, I shall believe him.”

“Look, this argument can be doing your headache very little good,” said Laodamas. “Let me fetch you a bowl of water and a soft cloth to bathe your temples. The sirocco is killing us all.”

What he intended for kindness she took as irony. After lying silent and inert until he brought the silver bowl to her bedside, she sat up suddenly, seized it from him, and deluged him with water.

“To cool down your hot thighs, Priapus!” she screamed.

Laodamas did not lose his temper and take her by the throat, as many a more impetuous man would have done. I never knew him to lay violent hands on a woman, not even to chastise a saucy slave girl. He merely cast Ctimene a baleful look and said: “Very well, then: you shall have your necklace, never fear, and may it bring less sorrow on our house than did the necklace of Theban Eriphyle in the Homeric song!”

He walked over to a nail-studded wooden chest, unlocked it, and took out a number of personal possessions—a gold cup, a helmet with an ostrich-feather plume, a buckle of silver and lapis lazuli, a new pair of scarlet shoes, three undershirts, a jewel-hilted dagger in an ivory sheath carved with lions pursuing a royal stag, and a fine whetstone from Seriphos. He pulled the helmet on his head, spread a thick cloak of striped wool on the floor and laid the treasures in it. Then he locked the chest, replaced the key on the nail above the bed head, caught up the bundle, and fumbled at the latch.

“Where are you taking those things? I demand to know. Put them back at once! I have something to tell you.”

Laodamas paid no attention, but walked out, bundle on shoulder.

“To the crows with you, then, madman!” screamed Ctimene.

This conversation took place about midnight. My bedroom was next door, and my hearing being unusually acute when I have a touch of fever, as I had then, every word reached me. Slipping hurriedly into my shift, I ran after Laodamas and caught him by the sleeve. “Where are you going, Brother?” I asked.

He looked at me dully. He had been drinking sweet dark wine that evening, and though his gait was steady, I could see that he was by no means himself.

“I am going to the crows, little Sister,” he answered sadly. “Ctimene has consigned me to their care.”

“Please, pay no attention to what your wife may have said tonight,” I begged him. “A sirocco is blowing; and at this time of the month she is never at her best.”

“She demands a necklace of amber with nubbly gold beads, and a clasp of interlocking golden snakes. It has to be pale Hyperborean amber; our own darker variety does not content her, though it has a lovely play of purple which occurs in no other. I mean to fetch her what she wants: in proof that I am neither idle nor a coward.”

“From where? From the crows?”

“Or the jackdaws… I cannot let her abuse me again as she has done. All the maids must have been listening, and soon the story will travel around the city. When it reaches Eurymachus and his friends, they will call me a fool for not taking a strap to her.”

“No strap ever cured either a shrew or a sick woman.”

“I agree; though if I loved Ctimene in a different way I might think otherwise. It is to keep my hands from violence that I am leaving her.”

“For how long?”

“Until I can bring her the necklace. Two or three months’ separation may do us both a deal of good.”

“I heard you mention the necklace of Eryphyle, which was a word of ill omen. Unless you offer a sacrifice to the Goddess of our Hearth, and another to Aphrodite, the safety of our whole household will be endangered. Do not go off with your wrong foot thrust forward. Stop, and replace those things in the chest.”

“And ask Ctimene’s pardon, I suppose? No, I cannot turn back now. Some god is urging me on. Good night, Sister! We shall meet when we shall meet.”

The story of Eriphyle is part of the famous Theban cycle which the Sons of Homer recite. This hateful woman was married to King Amphiaraus the Argive but, for the sake of Aphrodite’s necklace, which made its wearer irresistibly beautiful, she sent him to his death at Thebes.

Laodamas clumped slowly downstairs, and I heard him growling at the porter to unbar the front gate. Presently I leaned out of my window and saw him in the moonlight on his way towards the quay, where a big Rhodian ship was tied up. I thought of rousing my father, but knowing that he had fallen into a deep, refreshing sleep, after three days of fever, dared not disturb him with what might prove a matter of little importance. Ctimene herself treated it as such. Laodamas, she told herself, would not retract his insulting remarks about her father, nor listen when she tried to apologize for having lost her temper. So she turned her face to the wall with a good conscience, and was soon fast asleep.

I lay awake in the moonlight until I heard a distant burst of singing, as if a crowd of men had come pouring out of some storehouse or other; and, in the chorus of drunken laughter which followed, I recognized Eurymachus’s high-pitched cackle.

“All is well,” I thought wearily. “Eurymachus is still about. How I dislike him; but he will at least prevent my brother from behaving rashly or stupidly.”


When, next morning, we found the Rhodian ship had disappeared, taking advantage of a sudden change of wind, and that Laodamas was also missing, I hurriedly visited the Temple of Poseidon, where Eurymachus would soon be offering the monthly sacrifice of a red bull, to ask him what he knew of the matter.

“Nothing at all, my dear Princess. Why should I?” he answered stolidly, leaning on the sacrificial axe, and looking straight into my eyes, as if to disconcert me.

“Why? Because you were on the quay with Laodamas last night; please do not attempt to deny it. I heard your cackle of laughter when the Rhodians sang that obscene song about their ancestor Hermes and the slippery goatskin.”

“That must have been just before I said good night.”

“Why did you not look after him with decent care? He was drunk and unhappy. Your duty as his comrade demanded it.”

“He showed me little tenderness and, as the saying is, two are needed to make a comradeship, but only one to dissolve it. The failure of that Libyan adventure seems to have turned his wits. Last night he wildly accused me of conspiring with the captain to steal Ctimene’s copper and linen and then pretend that the ship had been wrecked off the Syrtes. When I reminded him of our old friendship, and hinted that he must be bewitched to talk such extravagant nonsense, he grew unbearably abusive. So, rather than encourage him to use his fists and have his nose flattened—I am by far the better boxer even when he is sober—I turned on my heel and retired to bed, pleased with my own moderation. It came as a surprise this morning to find the Rhodian purple-sellers gone. Do you think that Laodamas joined them?”

Eurymachus could never be frank with me. I thought at the time: “Because he is one of my suitors, and the one whom my father would most like me to marry (always supposing that he offers an adequate bride price), he does not care to reveal his faults to me prematurely.” Yet I have always hated a man who, trying to hide crooked intentions behind a honeyed smile, is vain enough to believe that I cannot see through him.

“If he has sailed,” I answered severely, “my father will not think the better of you.”

“No, perhaps not—until I have explained what happened, in the same words that I have used to you. Then doubtless I shall find him more ready to believe me.” As he spoke, one of our house-born slaves brought a message from my father himself, announcing that the fever had passed, and that he would be greatly obliged if Eurymachus could confer with him, as soon as the sacrifice was over, about the two night watchmen.

“Which watchmen?” I asked the slave.

“The dawn watch on the quay,” he answered. “Their relief has just reported them lying in a drugged sleep behind the sail shed. Two sails and three coils of the best Byblian cordage are missing.”

“There now, Eurymachus,” I said. “What do you make of that?”

I studied his face, but he had made it a blank. “Surely a most unusual piece of news?” I pressed him. “Rhodians have a reputation for strict commercial honesty, and I cannot see why one of their big ships should jeopardize it merely for the sake of two sails and a coil or two of cordage.”

He answered glibly: “There is something in what you say, lovely Nausicaa. Perhaps they needed the gear at once and could not wait for an audience with the port authority; so helped themselves, drugged the guards to prevent them from raising the alarm, and went off.”

“In that case they would have left adequate payment behind in the form of metal or wine.”

“Not if Laodamas went with them and undertook, in payment for his fare, to settle the debt on his return. Here comes the red bullock with the fillet on his head. Excuse my haste. Slave, tell the King that I rejoice to hear of the improvement in his health, and that I will discuss the affair of the watchmen as soon as this sacrifice is over and I have inspected the entrails.”

“I wish you well of your interview,” I flung at his insolent back.

Laodamas’s departure did not, at first, seem a very serious matter, though the omens taken from the entrails of that bullock were most menacing—the beast looked healthy enough, but had advanced intestinal decay. The port authority agreed, in debate, that the Rhodian captain, who had visited Drepanum three years before as mate of another ship belonging to the same merchant, was an honest and capable seaman; payment for the sails and cordage would doubtless be made one day, nor had the watchers necessarily been drugged by the captain, or by any member of his crew. It might well be that an Elyman comrade had played a joke on them. Laodamas would find himself in safe hands and, this being April, should have returned by July at the latest, bringing Ctimene her promised amber necklace.

My father, though angry that his eldest son had gone off suddenly without a good-bye or waiting for the fever to pass—the banishment of my brother Halius five years before still rankled in his heart—contented himself with telling Ctimene that it should be a lesson to her never again to tease a good man beyond endurance. Ctimene pleaded that the fault lay with Laodamas, who had made fun of her headache, insulted the noble people of Bucinna, and kept her awake by talking drunkenly when she wanted no more than to fall asleep, pillowing her head on his breast.

This version of the quarrel, though dishonestly one-sided, I did not care to contradict. And Phytalus, my mother’s old father, who had resigned the lordship of Hiera in favour of a son-in-law and come to potter about our estate as honorary steward, held that Ctimene was right to condemn Laodamas’s idleness. “The only excuse for hunting in a civilized country,” he grumbled, “is to prevent wild beasts from ravaging the cornfields or vineyards; the provision of flesh being incidental. But our cornfields are so well fenced, and game so scarce in this neighbourhood, that Laodamas has been obliged to scour distant forests, seldom bringing home so much as a hare. It is not as though hunter’s meat were desperately needed at the Palace; do we ever lack for fat hogs or tasty steers? If the boy needs adventure, on the other hand, let him go slave-raiding in Italian Daunia or Sardinia, as I did at his age.”

My mother never opens her mouth to comment on a situation that is still obscure; and since it was not yet certain that Laodamas had boarded the Rhodian ship, she remained silent. But Clytoneus offered a prayer to Father Zeus for his brother’s safe return, and then asked Ctimene’s permission to exercise Argus and Laelaps, Laodamas’s hounds, which she granted with a sour smile. “He must surely have sailed,” Clytoneus told her, “because if he had gone out hunting somewhere in the hills, he would never have left his hounds behind.”

The mystery deepened a month later, when a ship’s captain reported having spoken the Rhodian ship off Scyra, her last port of call. Laodamas, however, was not aboard; or at least the Rhodians said nothing of him. Possibly they had put him ashore at Acragas, where Aphrodite has a famous shrine, or at some other intervening port. Then Eurymachus’s mother suddenly recalled that at dawn on the day in question, while the Rhodian ship was still moored in Drepanum Harbour, she had noticed a twenty-oared galley, Phoenician by the build and rig, lying just inside the southern bay. Perhaps Laodamas had rowed out to her and bargained for a passage? Then another woman, Ctimene’s maid Melantho, who had been sleeping on the roof, also claimed to have seen the ship, with a dinghy in tow. But when pressed to explain why she had not mentioned so important a sight before, all that she would say, over and over again, was: “I did not want to cause trouble; silence is golden.” The news provoked a fresh crop of unprofitable speculations, yet nobody grew seriously concerned about Laodamas until the weather broke, at the end of October, and our ships, beached for the winter, were given their annual coat of tar.

I had to bear the brunt of Ctimene’s passionate grief and self-pity. We were thrown together by household business, and she pretended that she could not unbosom herself to the maids without either being accused of having treated Laodamas harshly, which would not be fair, or blaming him, which would be indecent. She said that I alone knew the circumstances; and, besides, she was justified in making me the repository of her secret grief because Laodamas’s disappearance had been largely my fault. “Indeed!” I cried, opening my eyes wide and jerking up my head. “How do you make that out, Sister-in-law?”