Death of Argos

One of the most poignant episodes in the Odyssey is when he returns to his palace in disguise as a beggar. No one recognises him except the dog he had left behind twenty years ago and who is now lying neglected on a heap of dung. I am affected by this as much as anyone but I can’t help thinking that the whole passage could be easily removed without damaging the Odyssey and the sentimentality is not typical of Homer. But anyway it always moves me.

ἔνθα κύων κεῖτ᾽ Ἄργος, ἐνίπλειος κυνοραιστέων.
δὴ τότε γ᾽, ὡς ἐνόησεν Ὀδυσσέα ἐγγὺς ἐόντα,
οὐρῇ μέν ῥ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἔσηνε καὶ οὔατα κάββαλεν ἄμφω,
ἆσσον δ᾽ οὐκέτ᾽ ἔπειτα δυνήσατο οἷο ἄνακτος
ἐλθέμεν: αὐτὰρ ὁ νόσφιν ἰδὼν ἀπομόρξατο δάκρυ,
ῥεῖα λαθὼν Εὔμαιον, ἄφαρ δ᾽ ἐρεείνετο μύθῳ:

Εὔμαι᾽, ἦ μάλα θαῦμα, κύων ὅδε κεῖτ᾽ ἐνὶ κόπρῳ.
καλὸς μὲν δέμας ἐστίν, ἀτὰρ τόδε γ᾽ οὐ σάφα οἶδα,
εἰ δὴ καὶ ταχὺς ἔσκε θέειν ἐπὶ εἴδεϊ τῷδε,
ἦ αὔτως οἷοί τε τραπεζῆες κύνες ἀνδρῶν
γίγνοντ᾽: ἀγλαΐης δ᾽ ἕνεκεν κομέουσιν ἄνακτες.

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφης, Εὔμαιε συβῶτα:
‘καὶ λίην ἀνδρός γε κύων ὅδε τῆλε θανόντος.
εἰ τοιόσδ᾽ εἴη ἠμὲν δέμας ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα,
οἷόν μιν Τροίηνδε κιὼν κατέλειπεν Ὀδυσσεύς,
αἶψά κε θηήσαιο ἰδὼν ταχυτῆτα καὶ ἀλκήν.
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι φύγεσκε βαθείης βένθεσιν ὕλης
κνώδαλον, ὅττι δίοιτο: καὶ ἴχνεσι γὰρ περιῄδη:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔχεται κακότητι, ἄναξ δέ οἱ ἄλλοθι πάτρης
ὤλετο, τὸν δὲ γυναῖκες ἀκηδέες οὐ κομέουσι.
δμῶες δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἂν μηκέτ᾽ ἐπικρατέωσιν ἄνακτες,
οὐκέτ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἐθέλουσιν ἐναίσιμα ἐργάζεσθαι:
ἥμισυ γάρ τ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἀποαίνυται εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς
ἀνέρος, εὖτ᾽ ἄν μιν κατὰ δούλιον ἦμαρ ἕλῃσιν.

ὣς εἰπὼν εἰσῆλθε δόμους εὖ ναιετάοντας,
325βῆ δ᾽ ἰθὺς μεγάροιο μετὰ μνηστῆρας ἀγαυούς.
Ἄργον δ᾽ αὖ κατὰ μοῖρ᾽ ἔλαβεν μέλανος θανάτοιο,
αὐτίκ᾽ ἰδόντ᾽ Ὀδυσῆα ἐεικοστῷ ἐνιαυτῷ.
τὸν δὲ πολὺ πρῶτος ἴδε Τηλέμαχος θεοειδὴς

There lay his dog Argos full of dog ticks. When he recognised Odysseus being near he wagged his tail and pricked up both his ears but he wasn’t able to come closer to his master. But Odysseus saw him and wiped away a tear easily hiding it from Eumaius and said “Eumaius, this is a wonder. The dog lies here on the dung. He is indeed beautiful in this body but I do not know for sure whether he was swift at running as suits this body or he is one of those that become table dogs that lords keep just for their looks.”

In reply you said, Eumaius the swineherd, “This is the dog of a man who died a long way away. If he was like in body and deeds as when Odysseus left him to go to Troy, you would see his speed and strength just by looking at him. No creature would escape in the depths of the deep thickets that he went after and he excelled in in tracking by smell but now he is he is in a bad way. His master has been destroyed far away from his homeland, and the uncaring women do not look after him. Maid servants when their masters are absent are no longer willing to do their duties for wide seeing Zeus takes away half the virtue from a man on the day that slavery takes him.

So saying he entered the well situated house and went straight to the hall to the proud suitors. But the black fate of death took Argos as soon as soon as he had seen Odysseus after twenty years.

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