The Slaves

Now it is sunset. The gods turn their backs on the world, to the halls of

splendour return for the feasting, wading the blood-thick clouds in their

leather-thonged sandals, sipping celestial nectar and then retiring, each to a

sweet-scented couch in his private apartment. 

The town is asleep. Only we wash the floor, clearing away the debris and dirt

of all those nights of drinking and laughter. Someone has vomited under the

table, red spreads the puddle of wine, undigested, and blends with the blood.

The heavy air in the room is hot and thick with the smoke of torches, sweat

runs down backs, heads ache, dizzily bowed to our dreary task. Hands function all

by themselves, busily sweeping and scouring, dragging the suitors'- our dear

lovers' - butchered remains to the midden out in the courtyard. 

Ulysses has come home. We didn't know him - I'd never seen him. Lady

Penelope's happy. She, of course, always had something in prospect. Either her hero

husband's return from distant Ilium or the reliable news of his death and the

choice of one of her numerous suitors, or, with the passage of time, the

creation from Ulysses' memory of a palace of fame undying for her to inhabit.


But how could we maids ever cling to a straw of memory, more and more slender

and only held out to another? No god pauses on our account; barred from all

history, how could we not have had faith in the glorious thrill of an actual

touch when it finally came our way? 

Translated by Bernard Adams