‘You, herdsman, and you, too, swineherd… Would you be men enough to stand by Odysseus if he came back? Would you bear arms for him…?’
The cowherd said: ‘Ah, let the master come! Father Zeus, grant our old wish! Some courier guide him back! Then judge what stuff is in me and how I manage arms!’
Likewise Eumaeus fell to praying all heaven for his return, so that Odysseus, sure at least of these, told them: ‘I am at home, for I am he. I bore adversities, but in the twentieth year I am ashore in my own land. I find the two of you, alone among my people longed for my coming.’
Homer, Odyssey, Bk XXI
At last the time has come. Up to now disguised as a lowly beggar, Odysseus reveals himself, the returned lord of Ithaka. He has work to do, and he needs help. Among all the servants it is Eumeaus the swineherd and Philoitios the cowherd who in the lord’s absence consistently watched, and prayed. For them, a lord not present in body was not deemed an altogether absent lord. Faith—an unswerving commitment to what cannot be seen—has animated their work, their stewarding of what belongs first of all to their master.
But now it is time for another work. Sometimes justice demands a readiness to fight. Even against great odds. These two know well what their master is asking—the enemy number in the scores. The hands of these servants have been hardened in the care of animals, not in training for battle. But to set wrongs to right, they will now wield sword and spear. Whether successful or not, swineherd and cowherd will be as faithful bearing arms as they have been in tending herds. For their prayers have been answered. The longed for one has returned, ashore in his own land, and found his servants at the ready. For whatever is needed.
Note: This is the third in a four part series of Wednesday Quotes about Eumaeus, the swineherd of the Odyssey.
Homer (8th century B.C.) is the great epic poet, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. Bacon from Acorns springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.