Gates of Horn and Ivory - The Odyssey

The Odyssey

The earliest appearance of the image is in the Odyssey, book 19, lines 560-569. There Penelope, who has had a dream that seems to signify that her husband Odysseus is about to return, expresses by a play on words her conviction that the dream is false. She says:

Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfilment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfilment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. But in my case it was not from thence, methinks, that my strange dream came.

Arthur T. Murray, translator of the original Loeb Classical Library edition of the Odyssey, commented:

The play upon the words κέρας, "horn", and κραίνω, "fulfil", and upon ἐλέφας, "ivory", and ἐλεφαίρομαι, "deceive", cannot be preserved in English.

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