Wednesday Quotes
A Swineherd’s Piety
October 30, 2013

Sacrifice of Pig

The swineherd then gave orders to his men:
‘Bring in our best pig for a stranger’s dinner. A feast will do our hearts good too; we know grief and pain, hard scrabbling with our swine, while the outsiders live on our labor.’
Bronze axe in hand, he turned to split up kindling, while they drove in a tall boar, prime and fat, planting him square before the fire. The gods, as ever, had their due in the swineherd’s thought, for he it was who tossed the forehead bristles as a first offering on the flames, calling upon the immortal gods to let Odysseus reach his home once more. Homer, Odyssey, Bk XIV

Disguised by Athena as a beggar, and thus a stranger even to his faithful swineherd Eumaeus, Odysseus has finally returned home to Ithaka. Though unrecognized, he is not unwelcomed. Having been received into the swineherd’s primitive woodland cabin, Odysseus expresses gratitude at the warmth of his reception.   Eumaeus responds, “Tush friend, rudeness to a stranger is not decency, poor though he may be, poorer than you. All wanderers and beggars come from Zeus.” But Eumaeus goes beyond avoiding rudeness. He slaughters the fattened pig—not for a son, but for a stranger. Because beggars come from Zeus. Then continuing to put first things first, he turns his thoughts to the gods, rendering them ritual honor before taking the life of the pig. And ever mindful of the master presumably still wandering far from home, he raises a prayer of petition, praying for his master’s needs even before his own.

Eumaeus is a man of incarnate piety. His work, and his hospitality, embody his regard for gods and men.


 Homer (8th century B.C.) is the great epic poet, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

 Note: This is the second in a series of Wednesday Quotes about Eumaeus, the swineherd of the Odyssey.

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  1. Thank you, Dr Cuddeback! I’d be curious to know more about the connection between Zeus and the poor, and when that started. It sounds so Christian that it is at odds with what I know about the rest of the ancient pantheons. God bless!

    1. Dominic, This connection is indeed rather remarkable. I have always been struck by the importance of hospitality in Homer. There seems to be a real conviction that any visitor, rich or poor, has a claim upon us, and a proximity to the gods. Thanks for your comment.

  2. This is a very inspiring series on the life and actions of Eumaeus, who was of a low caste in his society but still adhered to the highest conduct and honor. We can all learn much from what is being presented here. Thank you for your blog ( which I just recently discovered through FPR). The quiet, common sense written here is good for the soul. God bless you.

    1. Indeed, we have so much we can learn from Eumaeus. Your kind encouragement is much appreciated.