Stories from the Odyssey
by H. L. Havell
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


Retold by


Late Reader in English in the University of Halle Formerly Scholar of University College Oxford

Author of Stories from Herodotus, Stories from Greek Tragedy, Stories from the AEneid, Stories from the Iliad, etc.

"O well for him whose will is strong! He suffers, but he will not suffer long; He suffers, but he cannot suffer wrong: For him nor moves the loud world's random mock Nor all Calamity's hugest waves confound Who seems a promontory of rock, That compass'd round with turbulent sound In middle ocean meets the surging shock, Tempest-buffeted, citadel-crown'd." TENNYSON




























PENELOPE (The Vatican, Rome)




CIRCE (Sir E. Burne-Jones)

THE RETURN OF ODYSSEUS (L. F. Schuetzenberger)



The impersonal character of the Homeric poems has left us entirely in the dark as to the birthplace, the history, and the date, of their author. So complete is the darkness which surrounds the name of Homer that his very existence has been disputed, and his works have been declared to be an ingenious compilation, drawn from the productions of a multitude of singers. It is not my intention here to enter into the endless and barren controversy which has raged round this question. It will be more to the purpose to try and form some general idea of the characteristics of the Greek Epic; and to do this it is necessary to give a brief review of the political and social conditions in which it was produced.


The world as known to Homer is a mere fragment of territory, including a good part of the mainland of Greece, with the islands and coast districts of the AEgaean. Outside of these limits his knowledge of geography is narrow indeed. He has heard of Sicily, which he speaks of under the name of Thrinacia; and he speaks once of Libya, or the north coast of Africa, as a district famous for its breed of sheep. There is one vague reference to the vast Scythian or Tartar race (called by Homer Thracians), who live on the milk of mares; and he mentions a copper-coloured people, the "Red-faces," who dwell far remote in the east and west. The Nile is mentioned, under the name of AEgyptus; and the Egyptians are celebrated by the poet as a people skilled in medicine, a statement which is repeated by Herodotus. The Phoenicians appear several times in the Odyssey, and we hear once or twice of the Sidonians, as skilled workers in metal. As soon as we pass these boundaries, we enter at once into the region of fairyland.


In speaking of the religion of the Homeric Greeks we have to draw a distinction between the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the Iliad the gods play a much livelier and more human part than in the latter poem, and it is highly remarkable that the only comic scenes in the first and greatest of epics are those in which the gods are the chief actors—as when the lame Hephaestus takes upon him the office of cupbearer at the Olympian banquet, or when Artemis gets her ears boxed by the angry Hera. It would almost seem as if there were a vein of deliberate satire running through these descriptions, so daring is the treatment of the divine personages.

In the Odyssey, on the other hand, religion has become more spiritual. Olympus is no longer the mountain of that name, but a vague term, like our "heaven," denoting a place remote from all earthly cares and passions, a far-off abode in the stainless ether, where the gods dwell in everlasting peace, and from which they occasionally descend, to give an eye to the righteous and unrighteous deeds of men.

In his conception of the state of the soul after death Homer is very interesting. His Hades, or place of departed spirits, is a dim, shadowy region beyond the setting of the sun, where, after life's trials are over, the souls of men keep up a faint and feeble being. It is highly significant that the word which in Homer means "self" has also the meaning of "body"—showing how intimately the sense of personal identity was associated with the condition of bodily existence. The disembodied spirit is compared to a shadow, a dream, or a waft of smoke. "Alas!" cries Achilles, after a visit from the ghost of Patroclus, "I perceive that even in the halls of Hades there is a spirit and a phantom, but understanding none at all"; for the mental condition of these cold, uncomfortable ghosts is as feeble as their bodily form is shadowy and unsubstantial. They hover about with a fitful motion, uttering thin, gibbering cries, like the voice of a bat, and before they can obtain strength to converse with a visitor from the other world, they have to be fortified by a draught of fresh blood. The subject is summed up by Achilles, when Odysseus felicitates him on the honour which he enjoys, even in Hades: "Tell me not of comfort in death," he says: "I had rather be the thrall of the poorest wight that ever tilled a thankless soil for bread, than rule as king over all the shades of the departed."


Homeric society is essentially aristocratic. At its head stands the king, who may be a great potentate, like Agamemnon, ruling over a wide extent of territory, or a petty prince, like Odysseus, who exercises a sort of patriarchal authority within the limits of a small island. The person of the king is sacred, and his office is hereditary. He bears the title of Diogenes, "Jove-born," and is under the especial protection of the supreme ruler of Olympus. He is leader in war, chief judge, president of the council of elders, and representative of the state at the public sacrifices. The symbol of his office is the sceptre, which in some cases is handed down as an heirloom from father to son.

Next to the king stand the elders, a title which has no reference to age, but merely denotes those of noble birth and breeding. The elders form a senate, or deliberative body, before which all questions of public importance are laid by the king. Their decisions are afterwards communicated to the general assembly of the people, who signify their approval or dissent by tumultuous cries, but have no power of altering or reversing the measures proposed by the nobles. Thus we have already the three main elements of political life: king, lords, and commons—though the position of the last is at present almost entirely passive.


The morality of the Homeric age is such as we may expect to find among a people which has only partially emerged from barbarism. Crimes of violence are very common, and a familiar figure in the society of this period is that of the fugitive, who "has slain a man," and is flying from the vengeance of his family. Patroclus, when a mere boy, kills his youthful playmate in a quarrel over a game of knucklebones—an incident which may be seen illustrated in one of the statues in the British Museum. One of the typical scenes of Hellenic life depicted on the shield of Achilles is a trial for homicide; and such cases were of so frequent occurrence that they afford materials for a simile in the last book of the Iliad.

Where life is held so cheap, opinion is not likely to be very strict in matters of property. And we find accordingly a general acquiescence in "the good old rule, the ancient plan, that they may take who have the power, and they may keep who can." Cattle-lifting is as common as it formerly was on the Scottish border. The bold buccaneer is a character as familiar as in the good old days when Drake and Raleigh singed the Spanish king's beard, with this important difference, that the buccaneer of ancient Greece plundered Greek and barbarian with fine impartiality. A common question addressed to persons newly arrived from the sea is, "Are you a merchant, a traveller, or a pirate?" And this curious query implies no reproach, and calls for no resentment. Still more startling are the terms in which Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, is spoken of. This worthy, we are informed, "surpassed all mankind in thieving and lying"; and the information is given in a manner which shows that the poet intended it as a grave compliment. In another passage the same hero is celebrated as an accomplished burglar. So low was the standard of Homeric ethics in this respect; and even in the historical age of Greece, want of honesty and want of truthfulness were too often conspicuous failings in some of her most famous men.

Even more shocking to the moral sense is the wild ferocity which sometimes breaks out in the language and conduct of both men and women. The horrible practice of mutilating the dead after a battle is viewed with indifference, and even with complacency, by the bravest warriors. Even Patroclus, the most amiable of the heroes in the Iliad, proposes to inflict this dastardly outrage on the body of the fallen Sarpedon. Achilles drags the body of Hector behind his chariot from the battlefield, and keeps it in his tent for many days, that he may repeat this hideous form of vengeance in honour of his slaughtered friend. When the dying Hector begs him to restore his body to the Trojans for burial he replies with savage taunts, and wishes that he could find it in his heart to carve the flesh of Hector and eat it raw! And Hecuba, the venerable Queen of Troy, expresses herself in similar terms when Priam is preparing to set forth on his mission to the tent of Achilles.

Turning now to the more attractive side of the picture, we shall find much to admire in the character of Homer's heroes. In the first place we have to note their intense vitality and keen sense of pleasure, natural to a young and vigorous people. The outlook on life is generally bright and cheerful, and there is hardly any trace of that corroding pessimism which meets us in later literature. Cases of suicide, so common in the tragedians, are almost unknown.

In one respect, and that too a point of the very highest importance, the Greeks of this age were far in advance of those who came after them, and not behind the most polished nations of modern Europe. We refer to the beauty, the tenderness, and the purity of their domestic relations. The whole story of the Odyssey is founded on the faithful wedded love of Odysseus and Penelope, and the contrasted example of Agamemnon and his demon wife is repeatedly held up to scorn and abhorrence. The world's poetry affords no nobler scene than the parting of Hector and Andromache in the Iliad, nor has the ideal of perfect marriage ever found grander expression than in the words addressed by Odysseus to Nausicaae: "There is nothing mightier and nobler than when man and wife are of one mind and heart in a house, a grief to their foes, and to their friends a great joy, but their own hearts know it best."[1]

[Footnote 1: Butcher and Lang's translation.]

Hospitality in a primitive state of society, where inns are unknown, is not so much a virtue as a necessity. Even in these early times the Greeks, within the limits of their little world, were great travellers, and their swift chariots, and galleys propelled by sail and oar, enabled them to make considerable journeys with speed and safety. Arrived at their destination for the night they were sure of a warm welcome at the first house at which they presented themselves; and he who played the host on one occasion expected and found a like return when, perhaps years afterwards, he was brought by business or pleasure to the home of his former guest. Nor were these privileges confined to the wealthy and noble, who were able, when the time came, to make payment in kind, but the poorest and most helpless outcast, the beggar, the fugitive, and the exile, found countenance and protection, when he made his plea in the name of Zeus, the god of hospitality.


This frankness and simplicity of manners runs through the whole life of the Homeric Greek, and is reflected in every page of the two great epics which are the lasting monuments of that bright and happy age. As civilisation advances, and life becomes more complicated and artificial, human activity tends more and more to split up into an infinite number of minute occupations, and the whole time and energy of each individual are not more than sufficient to make him master in some little corner of art, science, or industry. A vast system of commerce brings the products of the whole world to our doors; and it is almost appalling to think of the millions of toiling hands and busy brains which must pass all their days in unceasing toil, in order that the humblest citizen may find his daily wants supplied. To give only one example: how vast and tremendous is the machinery which must be set at work before a single letter or post-card can reach its destination! This multiplication of needs, and endless subdivision of labour, too often results in stunting and crippling the development of the individual, so that it becomes harder, as time advances, to find a complete man, with all his faculties matured by equable and harmonious growth.

Very different were the conditions of life in the Homeric age. Then the wealthy man's house was a little world in itself, capable of supplying all the simple wants of its inhabitants. The women spun wool and flax, the produce of the estate, and wove them into cloth and linen, to be dyed and wrought into garments by the same skilful hands. On the sunny slopes of the hills within sight of the doors the grapes were ripening against the happy time of vintage, when merry troops of children would bring them home with dance and song to be trodden in the winepress. Nearer at hand was the well-kept orchard, bowing under its burden of apples, pears, and figs; and groves of grey olive-trees promised abundance of oil. In the valleys waved rich harvests of wheat and barley, which were reaped, threshed, ground, and made into bread, by the master's thralls. Herds of oxen, and flocks of sheep and goats, roved on the broad upland pastures, and in the forest multitudes of swine were fattening on the beech-mast and acorns.

And the owner of all these blessings was no luxurious drone, living in idleness on the labour of other men's hands. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, the father of his household. His was the vigilant eye which watched and directed every member in the little army of workers, and his the generous hand which dealt out bountiful reward for faithful service. If need were he could take his share in the hardest field labour, and plough a straight furrow, or mow a heavy crop of grass from dawn till sunset without breaking his fast. Nothing was too great or too little to engage his attention, as the necessity arose. He was a warrior, whose single prowess might go far in deciding the issue of a hard-fought battle—an orator, discoursing with weighty eloquence on grave questions of state—a judge, whose decisions helped to build up the as yet unwritten code of law. Descending from these high altitudes, he could take up his bow and spear, and go forth to hunt the boar and the stag, or wield the woodman's axe, or the carpenter's saw and chisel. He could kill, dress, and serve his own dinner; and when the strenuous day was over, he could tune the harp, discourse sweet music, and sing of the deeds of heroes and gods.

Such was the versatility, and such the many-sided energy, of the Greek as he appears in the Iliad and Odyssey. And as these two poems contain the elements of all subsequent thought and progress in the Greek nation, so in the typical character of Odysseus are concentrated all the qualities which distinguish the individual Greek—his insatiable curiosity, which left no field of thought unexplored—his spirit of daring enterprise, which carried the banner of civilisation to the borders of India and the Straits of Gibraltar—and his subtlety and craft, which in a later age made him a byword to the grave moralists of Rome.

In the Iliad Odysseus is constantly exhibited as a contrast to the youthful Achilles. Wherever prudence, experience, and policy, are required, Odysseus comes to the front. In Achilles, with his furious passions and ill-regulated impulses, there is always something of the barbarian; while Odysseus in all his actions obeys the voice of reason. It will readily be seen that such a character, essentially intellectual, always moving within due measure, never breaking out into eccentricity or excess, would appeal less to the popular imagination than the fiery nature of Pelides, "strenuous, passionate, implacable, and fierce." And on this ground we may partly explain the unamiable light in which Odysseus appears in later Greek literature. Already in Pindar we find him singled out for disapproval. In Sophocles he has sunk still lower; and in Euripides his degradation is completed.


Space does not allow us to give a detailed criticism of the Odyssey as a poem, and determine its relation to the Iliad. We must content ourselves with quoting the words of the most eloquent of ancient critics, which sum up the subject with admirable brevity and insight: "Homer in his Odyssey may be compared to the setting sun: he is still as great as ever, but he has lost his fervent heat. The strain is now pitched in a lower key than in the 'Tale of Troy divine': we begin to miss that high and equable sublimity which never flags or sinks, that continuous current of moving incidents, those rapid transitions, that force of eloquence, that opulence of imagery which is ever true to nature. Like the sea when it retires upon itself and leaves its shores waste and bare, henceforth the tide of sublimity begins to ebb, and draws us away into the dim region of myth and legend."[1]

[Footnote 1: Longinus: "On the Sublime." Translated by H.L. Havell, B.A. p. 20. Macmillan & Co.]


Telemachus, Penelope, and the Suitors


In a high, level spot, commanding a view of the sea, stands the house of Odysseus, the mightiest prince in Ithaca. It is a spacious building, two storeys high, constructed entirely of wood, and surrounded on all sides by a strong wooden fence. Within the enclosure, and in front of the house, is a wide courtyard, containing the stables, and other offices of the household.

A proud maiden was Penelope, when Odysseus wedded her in her youthful bloom, and made her the mistress of his fair dwelling and his rich domain. One happy year they lived together, and a son was born to them, whom they named Telemachus. Then war arose between Greece and Asia, and Odysseus was summoned to join the train of chieftains who followed Agamemnon to win back Helen, his brother's wife. Ten years the war lasted; then Troy was taken, and those who had survived the struggle returned to their homes. Among these was Odysseus, who set sail with joyful heart, hoping, before many days were passed, to take up anew the thread of domestic happiness which had been so rudely broken. But since that hour he has vanished from sight, and for ten long years from the fall of Troy the house has been mourning its absent lord.

During the last three years a new trouble has been present, to fill the cup of Penelope's sorrow to the brim. A host of suitors, drawn from the most powerful families in Ithaca and the neighbouring islands, have beset the house of Odysseus, desiring to wed his wife and possess her wealth. All her friends urge her to make choice of a husband from that clamorous band; for no one now believes that there is any hope left of Odysseus' return. Only Penelope still clings to the belief that he is yet living, and will one day come home. So for three years she has put them off by a cunning trick. She began to weave a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, promising that, as soon as the garment was finished, she would wed one of the suitors. Then all day long she wove that choice web; and every night she undid the work of the day, unravelling the threads which she had woven. So for three years she beguiled the suitors, but at last she was betrayed by her handmaids, and the fraud was discovered. The princes upbraided her loudly for her deceit, and became more importunate than ever. The substance of Odysseus was wasting away; for day after day the wooers came thronging to the house, a hundred strong, and feasted at the expense of its absent master, and drank up his wine.

No hope seems left to the heartbroken, faithful wife. Even her son has grown impatient at the waste of his goods, and urges her to make the hard choice, and the hateful hour is at hand which will part her for ever from the scene of her brief wedded joy.


It was the hour of noon, and the sun was beating hot on the rocky hills of Ithaca, when a solitary wayfarer was seen approaching the outer gateway which led into the courtyard of Odysseus' house. He was a man of middle age, dressed like a chieftain, and carrying a long spear in his hand. Passing through the covered gateway he halted abruptly, and gazed in astonishment at the strange sight which met his eyes. All was noise and bustle in the courtyard, where a busy troop of servants were preparing the materials for a great feast. Some were carrying smoking joints of roast meat, others were filling huge bowls with wine and water, and others were washing the tables and setting them out to dry. In the portico before the house sat a great company of young nobles, comely of aspect, and daintily attired, taking their ease on couches of raw ox-hide, and playing at draughts to while away the time until the banquet should be ready. Loud was their talk, and boisterous their laughter, as of men who have no respect for themselves or for others. "Surely this was the house of Odysseus," murmured the stranger to himself, "but now it seems like a den of thieves. But who is that tall and goodly lad, who sits apart, with gloomy brow, and seems ill-pleased with the doings of that riotous crew? Surely I should know that face, the very face of my old friend as I knew him long years ago."

As he spoke, the youth who had attracted his notice glanced in his direction, and seeing a stranger standing unheeded at the entrance, he rose from his seat and came with hasty step and heightened colour towards him. "Forgive me, friend," he said, with hand outstretched in welcome, "that I marked thee not before. My thoughts were far away. But come into the house, and sit down to meat, and when thou hast eaten we will inquire the reason of thy coming."

So saying, and taking the stranger's spear, he led him into the great hall of the house, and sat down with him in a corner, remote from the noise of the revel. And a handmaid bare water in a golden ewer, and poured it over their hands into a basin of silver; and when they had washed, a table was set before them, heaped with delicate fare. Then host and guest took their meal together, and comforted their hearts with wine.

Before they had finished, the whole company came trooping in from the courtyard, and filled the room with uproar, calling aloud for food and drink. Not a chair was left empty, and the servants hurried to and fro, supplying the wants of these unwelcome visitors. Vast quantities of flesh were consumed, and many a stout jar of wine was drained to the dregs, to supply the wants of that greedy multitude.

When at last their hunger was appeased, and every goblet stood empty, Phemius, the minstrel, stood up in their midst, and after striking a few chords on his harp, began to sing a famous lay. Then the youth who had been entertaining the stranger drew closer his chair, and thus addressed him, speaking low in his ear: "Thou seest what fair company we keep, how wanton they are, and how gay. Yet there was once a man who would have driven them, like beaten hounds, from this hall, even he whose substance they are devouring. But his bones lie whitening at the bottom of the sea, and we who are left must tamely suffer this wrong. But now thou hast eaten, and I may question thee without reproach. Say, therefore, who art thou, and where is thy home? Comest thou for the first time to Ithaca, or art thou an old friend of this house, bound to us by ties of ancient hospitality?"

"My name is Mentes," answered the stranger, "and I am a prince of the Taphians, a bold race of sailors. I am a friend of this house, well known to its master, Odysseus, and his father, Laertes. Be of good cheer, for he whom thou mournest is not dead, nor shall his coming be much longer delayed. But tell me now of a truth, art not thou the son of that man? I knew him well, and thou hast the very face and eyes of Odysseus."

"My mother calls me his son," replied the youth, who was indeed Telemachus himself, "and I am bound to believe her. Would that it were otherwise! I have little cause to bless my birth."

"Yet shalt thou surely be blest," said Mentes; "thou art not unmarked of the eye of Heaven. But answer me once more, what means this lawless riot in the house? And what cause has brought all these men hither?"

"This also thou shalt know," replied Telemachus. "These are the princes who have come to woo my mother; and while she keeps them waiting for her answer they eat up my father's goods. Ere long, methinks, they will make an end of me also."

"Fit wooers indeed for the wife of such a man!" said Mentes with a bitter smile. "Would that he were standing among them now as I saw him once in my father's house, armed with helmet and shield and spear! He would soon wed them to another bride. But whether it be God's will that he return or not, 'tis for thee to devise means to drive these men from thy house. Take heed, therefore, to my words, and do as I bid thee. To-morrow thou shalt summon the suitors to the place of assembly, and charge them that they depart to their homes. And do thou thyself fit out a ship, with twenty rowers, and get thee to Pylos, where the aged Nestor dwells, and inquire of him concerning thy father. From Pylos proceed to Sparta, the kingdom of Menelaus; he was the last of the Greeks to reach home, after the fall of Troy; and perchance thou mayest learn something from him. And if thou hearest sure tidings of thy father's death, then get thee home, and raise a tomb to his memory, and keep his funeral feast. Then let thy mother wed whom she will; and if these men still beset thee, thou must devise means to slay them, either by guile or openly. Thou art now a man, and must play a man's part. Hast thou not heard of the fame which Orestes won, when he slew the murderer of his sire? Be thou valiant, even as he; tall thou art, and fair, and shouldst be a stout man of thy hands. But 'tis time for me to be going; my ship awaits me in the harbour, and my comrades will be tired of waiting for me."

"Stay yet awhile," answered Telemachus, "until thou hast refreshed thyself with the bath; and I will give thee a costly gift to bear with thee as a memorial of thy visit." But even as he spoke Mentes rose from his seat and, gliding like a shadow through the sunlit doorway, disappeared. Telemachus followed, in wonder and displeasure; but no trace of the strange visitor was to be seen. Looking upward he saw a great sea-eagle winging his way towards the shore; and a voice seemed to whisper in his ear: "No mortal was thy guest, but the great goddess Athene, daughter of Zeus, and ever thy father's true comrade and faithful ally."


With a strange elation of spirits Telemachus returned to the hall, and sat down among the suitors. Hitherto he had shown a certain weakness and indecision of character, natural in a young lad, who had grown up without the strong guiding hand of a father, and who, since the first dawn of his manhood, had been surrounded by a host of subtle foes. But the words of Athene have gone home, and he resolves that from this hour he will take his proper place in the house as his mother's guardian and the heir of a great prince.

There was an unwonted stillness among that lawless troop, and they sat silent and attentive in the great, dimly lighted chamber. For the minstrel was singing a sweet and solemn strain, which told of the home-coming of the Greeks from Troy, and of all the disasters which befell them on the way. Suddenly the singer paused in the midst of his lay, for his fine ear had caught the sound of a sobbing sigh. Looking round, he saw a tall and stately lady standing in the doorway which led to the women's apartments at the back of the house. She was closely veiled, but he instantly recognised the form of Penelope, his beloved mistress.

"Phemius," said Penelope, in a tone of gentle reproach, "hast thou no other lay to sing, but must needs recite this tale of woe, which fills my soul with tears, by calling up the image of him for whom I sorrow night and day?"

Phemius stood abashed, and ventured no reply; but Telemachus answered for him. "Mother," he said, "blame not the sweet minstrel for his song. The bard is not the author of the woes of which he sings, but Zeus assigns to each his portion of good and ill; and thou must submit to his ordinance, like many another lady who has lost her lord. Thou hast thy province in the house, and I mine; thine is to govern thy handmaids, and mine to take the lead where the men are gathered together. And I say that the minstrel has chosen well."

There was a new note of command in the voice of Telemachus as he uttered these words. Penelope heard it, and wondered what change had come over her son; but a hundred bold eyes were gazing insolently at her, and without another word she turned away, and ascended the steep stairs which led to her bower. There she reclined on a couch, and her tears flowed freely; for the song of Phemius had reopened the fountain of her grief. Presently the sound of sobbing died away, and she drew her breath gently in a sweet and placid sleep.

The sudden appearance of Penelope had excited the suitors, and they began to brawl noisily among themselves. Presently Telemachus raised his voice, commanding silence for the minstrel. "And I have something else to say unto you," he added. "To-morrow at dawn I bid you come to the place of assembly, that we may make an end of these wild doings in my house. I will bear it no longer, but will publish your evil deeds to the ears of gods and men."

Among the suitors there was a certain Antinous, a tall and stout fellow, of commanding presence, who was looked up to by the others as a sort of leader, being the boldest and most brutal in the band. And now he answered for the rest "Heaven speed thy boasting, young braggart!" he cried in rude and jeering tones. "It will be a happy day for the men of Ithaca when they have thee for their king."

"I claim not the kingdom," answered Telemachus firmly, "but I am resolved to be master in my own house."

By the side of Antinous sat Eurymachus, who was next to him in power and rank. This was a smooth and subtle villain, not less dangerous than Antinous, but glib and plausible of speech. And he too made answer after his kind: "Telemachus, thou sayest well, and none can dispute thy right. But with thy good leave I would ask thee concerning the stranger. He seemed a goodly man; but why did he start up and leave us so suddenly? Did he bring any tidings of thy father?"

"There can be no tidings of him," answered Telemachus sadly, "except that we shall never see him again. And as to this stranger, it was Mentes, a friend of my father's, and prince of the Taphians."

Night was now coming on, the suitors departed to their homes, and Telemachus, who meditated an early start next day, retired early to his chamber. The room where he slept stood in the courtyard, apart from the house, and was reached by a stairway. He was attended by an aged dame, Eurycleia, who had nursed him in his infancy. And all night long he lay sleepless, pondering on the perils and the adventures which awaited him.

The Assembly; The Voyage of Telemachus


At the first peep of dawn Telemachus was afoot, and summoning the heralds he ordered them to make proclamation of an assembly to be held in a public place in the town of Ithaca. Then he went down to the place of assembly, with two favourite hounds following close at his heels; and when he arrived he found the princes and elders of the people already gathered together. All eyes were turned to the gallant lad, as he sat down on his father's seat among the noblest of the sons of Ithaca. Never had he worn so princely an air, or seemed so worthy of his mighty sire.

Then the old chieftain AEgyptus began the debate; he was bent double with age, and one of his sons, Antiphus, had followed Odysseus to Troy, while another, Eurynomus, was among the suitors of Penelope. It was of Antiphus that he thought, as he stood up and made harangue among the elders:

"Who has summoned us hither, and what is his need? Never have we met together in council since the day when Odysseus set sail from Ithaca. Hath any tidings come of the return of those who followed him to Troy, or is it some other business of public moment which has called us hither? But whoever sent out this summons, I doubt not he is a worthy man, and may Zeus accomplish his purpose, whatever it be."

Such chance sayings were regarded as a sign of Heaven's will, and Telemachus rejoiced in spirit at the old man's blessing. And forthwith he stood up in the midst, and, taking the sceptre from the herald's hand, rushed at once into the subject of which his mind was full.

"Behold me here, old man," he said, addressing AEgyptus. "It is I who have called you together, and surely not without a cause. Is it not enough that I have lost my brave father, whose gentleness and loving-kindness ye all knew, when he was your king? But must I sit still, day after day, and see the fattest of my flocks and herds slaughtered, and the red wine poured out wastefully, by these men who have come to woo my mother? Take shame to yourselves, and restrain them; fear the reproach of men, and the wrath of Heaven, and suffer me not thus to be evilly entreated, unless ye harbour revengeful thoughts against my father, for some wrong which he has done you."

He had spoken thus far, when tears choked his voice, and flinging the sceptre on the ground he returned to his seat. There was a general feeling of compassion among his hearers, and not one of the suitors ventured to answer him, save only Antinous, who began in his wonted style of brutal insolence, upbraiding Telemachus in violent terms, and throwing all the blame on Penelope, who, he said, had beguiled them for three years by holding out promises which she never meant to fulfil. Then he told the story of Penelope's web, and concluded his speech with these words:

"As long as thy mother continues in this mind, so long will we stay here and consume thy living. If thou wouldst be quit of us, send her to her father's house and bid her marry the man of her choice."

Telemachus replied: "How can I drive away the mother who bare me and nourished me? And where shall I find means to pay back her dower? But most of all I dread my mother's curse. No, never shall that word be spoken by me. Therefore, if ye know aught of fair and honest dealing, depart from my house, and live on your own goods; but if it seems good to you to eat up another man's living, then will I appeal to the justice of heaven, and pray for vengeance on your heads."

"Behold, his prayer is answered," cried Halitherses, a venerable elder, with snow-white beard, who was skilled in augury; and looking up they saw two eagles winging their way at full speed towards the place of assembly. Now the two great birds hovered over the meeting; and just at this moment they wheeled round and attacked each other fiercely with beak and claw. After fighting for some time they shot away to the right and were soon lost to view. Then Halitherses spake again, interpreting the omen: "Hearken, men of Ithaca, to my words, and to you, the suitors of Penelope, especially do I speak. Woe is coming upon you; I see it rising and swelling as a wave. Not long shall Odysseus be absent, but even now he is near at hand hatching mischief for those who sit here. And many another shall suffer, besides these who have done the wrong. Therefore, I say, let us stop their evil deeds, or let them cease themselves. The hour is near at hand which I foretold, when Odysseus embarked for Troy: I said that after many sufferings, having lost all his comrades, unknown to all in the twentieth year he should come home. And now all these things are coming to pass."

Then up rose Eurymachus, in an angry and scornful mood. "Old man," said he, "go home and prophesy to thine own children, lest some harm befall thee here. Thinkest thou that every fowl of the air is a messenger from heaven? Odysseus has perished, and would that thou hadst perished with him! Art thou not ashamed to take sides with this malapert boy, feeding his passion and folly with thy crazy prophecies? Doubtless thou lookest to him for favour and reward, but thou wilt find that his friendship will cost thee dear. Telemachus has heard our answer to his complaint; let him keep his eloquence for his froward mother, and bring her to a better mind, for neither his speeches nor thy prophecies will turn us from our purpose."

The principal object of the meeting was now attained: the villainy of the suitors had been publicly exposed, and they were left without excuse or hope of mercy when the day of reckoning should arrive. Accordingly Telemachus, dismissing the subject of his wrongs, now spoke of his intended voyage to Pylos and Sparta, and begged for the loan of a ship to carry him and his comrades to the mainland.

No response was made to his request; but one man still attempted to rouse public opinion against the suitors. This was Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus, who had been left in charge of his household on his departure from Ithaca. "Is there not one among you," he cried indignantly, "who will speak a word for Telemachus, or testify against the wickedness of these men? No more let kings be gentle and merciful towards their people, as was Odysseus when he ruled over you, loving and tender-hearted as a father. Let righteousness give place to oppression, if these are its rewards. There you sit, like cowed and beaten men, and suffer a handful of worthless men to lord it over you all."

After this last appeal, which was as fruitless as the others, the meeting broke up, and the suitors returned to their revels in the house of Odysseus.


Full of anxious thought, Telemachus went down to the shore, wondering how he should find means to accomplish his voyage. Stooping down, he bathed his hands in the sea, and after this act of purification he lifted up his hands and prayed to Athene: "O thou who camest yesterday to our house, and badest me go on this quest, give ear and help me in this strait."

He had hardly finished his prayer when he heard a footstep, and looking round saw Mentor, who had come to his aid at the meeting, approaching from the town. "Be not cast down," said Mentor, "remember whose son thou art, and all shall be well with thee. As to this voyage, that shall be my care. I will find thee a ship, and will go with thee to Pylos. Meanwhile go thou home and make ready all things for victualling the ship, corn and wine and barley-meal, and bestow them heedfully in vessels and in bags of leather. Ships there are in plenty, new and old, in seagirt Ithaca; I will choose the best of them all, and man her with a crew who will serve thee freely and with all goodwill."

Away went Telemachus, much comforted in spirit, though his heart fluttered when he thought of the great adventure which lay before him. When he entered the courtyard of his house he found the suitors flaying goats and singeing swine for the midday feast. Antinous hailed his coming with a rude laugh, and running up to him seized his hand and said mockingly: "Well met, Sir Eloquence! Thy face, I see, is full of care, as of one who is bent on high designs. But lay thy graver burdens aside for awhile, and eat and drink with us. Thou shalt want neither ship nor men to carry thee to holy Pylos."

Telemachus snatched his hand away, and answered sternly: "My thoughts are not of feasting and merry-making, nor would I eat and drink with you if they were. I am no longer a child, to be flouted and robbed without a word. I tell you I shall find it in my heart to do you a mischief, before many days are passed. But now I am going, as I said, on this journey. I must go as a passenger, since ye will not lend me a ship."

Many a scornful face was turned upon him, and many a taunt aimed at him, as he uttered these bold words. "We are all undone!" cried one in pretended alarm, "Telemachus is gone to gather an army in Pylos or in Sparta, and he will come back with his mighty men and take all our lives." "Or perhaps he is going to bring poison from Ephyra," said another, "and he will cast it in the bowl, and we shall be all dead corpses.[1]" And a third cried: "Take care of thyself, Telemachus, or we shall have double labour because of thee, in dividing thy goods among us."

[Footnote 1: 2 Kings xix. 35.]

But the taunts of fools and knaves have no sting for honest ears. Without another word Telemachus left that gibing mob, and went straight to the strong-room where his father's treasure was stored. There lay heaps of gold and silver, and chests full of fine raiment, and great jars of fragrant olive-oil. Along the wall was a long row of portly casks, filled with the choicest wine; there they had stood untouched for twenty years, awaiting the master's return. All this wealth was given in charge to Eurycleia, the nurse of Telemachus, a wise and careful dame, who watched the chamber day and night. Her Telemachus now summoned, and said: "Fill me twelve jars of wine—not the best, which thou art keeping for my father, but the next best to that. And take twenty measures of barley-meal, and store it in sacks of leather, and keep all these things together till I send for them. Keep close counsel, and above all let not my mother know. I am going to Sparta and to sandy Pylos to inquire of my father's return; and I shall start in the evening when my mother is gone to rest."

"Who put such a thought into thy heart?" cried Eurycleia in wailing tones. "Why wilt thou take this dreadful journey, thou, an only child, so loved, and so dear? Odysseus is lost for ever, and if thou go we shall lose thee too, for the suitors will plot thy ruin while thou art far away."

"Fear nothing for me," answered Telemachus, "Heaven's eye is upon me, and the hand of Zeus is spread over me. Swear to me now that thou wilt not tell my mother until twelve days have past." Eurycleia swore as he bade her, and at once set about making the preparations for his journey.

The suitors were in high spirits at the result of the meeting, and they ate heavily and drank deeply to celebrate their triumph. Hence it happened that they retired to rest earlier than usual, being drowsy from their intemperate revel; and when Telemachus returned to the banquet-hall he found all the guests departed, and the servants removing the remains of the feast. Soon afterwards Mentor appeared, and announced that the ship lay ready at her moorings outside the harbour. The stores were carried down to the sea, and stowed under the rowers' benches. "All hands on board!" cried Mentor, and took his place in the stern, Telemachus sitting by his side. The crew sat ready at their oars, the ship was cast loose from the moorings, and a few vigorous strokes impelled her into deep water. Then a strong breeze sprang up from the west, the big sail was set, and the good ship bounded joyfully over the waves, with the white wake roaring behind. The oars were shipped, the sheets made fast, and all the company pledged each other in brimming cups, drinking to their prosperous voyage.

The Visit to Nestor at Pylos


So all night long the ship clave her way; and at sunrise they reached the flat, sandy coast of Pylos. There they found a great multitude assembled, keeping the feast of Poseidon with sacrifices of oxen. The solemn rite was nearly ended when they brought their vessel to land.

"Courage, now," said Mentor to Telemachus, seeing the young lad somewhat abashed by the presence of so large a company. "Remember whom thou seekest, and lay thy modest scruples aside. Thou seest that venerable man, still tall and erect, though he numbers more than a hundred years. That is Nestor, son of Neleus, wisest of the Greeks, a king and the friend and counsellor of kings. Go straight to him, and tell him thy errand."

Seeing Telemachus, who was a homebred youth, still hanging back, in dread of that august presence, Mentor renewed his friendly remonstrances, "What, still tongue-tied?" he said, taking him by the arm, and leading him forward. "Heaven mend thy wits, poor lad! Knowest thou not that thou art a child of great hopes, and a favourite of heaven?"

When they came to the place where Nestor was seated with his sons, they found them busy preparing the feast which followed the sacrifice. As soon as those of Nestor's company saw the strangers they came forward in a body to greet them, and made them sit down in places of honour, where soft fleeces were heaped up on the level sand. A youth, about the same age as Telemachus, placed a goblet of gold in Mentor's hand, and gave him that portion of the flesh which was set apart as an offering to the gods. "Welcome, friend," he said, after pledging him from the cup. "Put up thy prayer with us to the lord Poseidon, for it is to his feast that ye have come. And when thou hast prayed, give the cup to thy young companion, who has been bred, methinks, as I have, to deeds of piety."

Mentor first asked a blessing on their hosts, and then prayed for a prosperous issue to their own adventure. After him Telemachus uttered his prayer in similar words, and then they all sat down to meat. When they had finished, Nestor looked earnestly at them, and asked them who they were, and what was the purpose of their journey. "Are ye merchants," he said, "or bold buccaneers, who roam the seas, a peril to others, and ever in peril themselves?"

Telemachus, cheered by good fare, and encouraged by the kind manner of Nestor, answered confidently, and explained the nature of his errand. "Concerning all the other Greeks," he added, "we know at least the manner of their death; but even this poor comfort is denied to the wife and son of Odysseus. Therefore, if thou hast aught to tell, I beseech thee by thy friendship with my father, let me know all, and soften not the tale, out of kindness or pity to me."

"Ah! my friend," answered Nestor. "What woeful memories thou hast awakened by thy words!—perils by land and perils by water, long years of siege and battle, sleepless nights and toilsome days. Ill-fated land of Troy! the grave of Grecian chivalry! There lies heroic Ajax, there lies Achilles, and Patroclus, sage in counsel, and there lies Antilochus, my own dear son, fleet of foot and strong of hand. And art thou indeed the son of Odysseus, whom none could match in craft and strategy? But why do I ask? When thou speakest, I seem to hear the very tones of his voice. He was my friend, one with me in mind and heart, and during all the time of the siege we took counsel together for the weal of Greece. But when the war was over disasters came thick and fast upon the host. And first, division arose between the two sons of Atreus; Agamemnon wished to abide in Troy until sacrifice had been offered to appease the anger of Athene, but Menelaus advised immediate departure. The party of Menelaus, of whom I was one, launched their ships and sailed to Tenedos; there Odysseus, who had set sail with us, put back to the mainland of Asia, wishing to do a favour to Agamemnon. But I, and Diomede with me, set forth at once, and, crossing the sea from Lesbos, came to Euboea; thence, after sacrifice to Poseidon, I steered due south, and parting from Diomede at Argos continued my voyage, and landed safe in Pylos. Thus it happened that I was not witness of the good or evil fortunes of the other Greeks on their voyage home, and know only by rumour how they fared. Of Agamemnon's fate thou hast surely heard thyself, how he was murdered on his own hearth by the treachery of AEgisthus, and how the murder was avenged by Orestes. Happy the father who has such a son! And such, methinks, art thou."

"Ay," answered Telemachus, when Nestor had finished his long story, "I have heard of that glorious deed; and would to heaven that by the might of my hands I might so take vengeance on the evil men who have come to woo my mother, and who fill my house with injury and outrage."

"Ah! thou hast reminded me," said Nestor. "I heard of the shameful wrong which thou hast suffered. But do not despair! Who knows but that Odysseus will yet return, and make them drink the cup which they have filled? It may well come to pass, if Athene continues to thy house the favour which she showed thy father, plain for all eyes to see, in the land of Troy."

"Nay, 'tis too much to hope," answered Telemachus with a sigh, "the thing is too hard—even a god could hardly bring it to pass."

"Now out on thy faint heart!" cried Mentor, who hitherto had sat silent. "Better for him that his homecoming should be long delayed than that he should have died, like Agamemnon, fresh from his victory. Heaven will guide him yet to his own door, though now he be at the uttermost parts of the earth."

Telemachus shook his head as he answered: "No more of that, I pray thee; it can never be." Then, addressing Nestor, he said: "I would fain ask thee more concerning the manner of Agamemnon's death. Where was Menelaus when that foul deed was done? And how did AEgisthus contrive to slay a man mightier far than himself?"

"Thou askest well," replied Nestor. "Menelaus was far away, or we should have another tale to tell. And had the return of Menelaus not been delayed, vengeance would have been forestalled by many years. Yea, the dogs would have eaten the flesh of that vile churl, and not a tear would have been shed for him. But this is how it fell out: while we were toiling and warring at Troy, AEgisthus sat close to the ear of Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, and poured sweet poison into her mind. For a long while she refused to hearken to his base proposals, for she was of a good understanding, and moreover there was ever at her side a minstrel, into whose care Agamemnon had given her when he went to Troy. But AEgisthus seized upon the minstrel, and left him on a desert island to be devoured by carrion birds. Then Clytaemnestra yielded to his suit, and he brought her to his own house.

"But as to thy question concerning Menelaus, he left Troy in my company, as I told thee, and we sailed together as far as Sunium. There Menelaus lost his steersman, who was visited by Apollo with sudden death, as he sat by the helm; so he remained there to bury his comrade. But his misfortunes were not yet over; for when he reached the steep headland at Malea a violent storm arose, and parted his fleet. Some of his ships ran into Crete for shelter, while he himself was carried away to Egypt, where he remained many days, and gathered store of wealth.

"Now thou understandest why AEgisthus was able to work his will on Agamemnon, and why he escaped vengeance so long. For seven years he sat on the throne of golden Mycenae, and grievously oppressed the people. But in the eighth year came Orestes, and cut him off in the fulness of his sin; and on that very day Menelaus came to him, loaded with the treasures of Egypt.

"Far and long had he wandered; but so do not thou, my child. Leave not thy house unguarded, while so many foes are gathered against thee, lest when thou return thou find thyself stripped of all. But to Menelaus I would have thee go; him thou must by all means consult; for who knows what he may have learnt on that wondrous voyage? Vast is the space of water over which he has travelled, not to be measured in one year by a bird in her speediest flight. If thou wilt, thou canst go to Sparta in thy ship, or if thou choose to go by land, my chariots and my horses are thine for this service, and my sons shall guide you on the way."


Amid such talk as this, with many a brave story "of moving accidents by flood and field," and many a pithy saw from the white-haired Nestor, who had lived so long and seen so much, the hours glided swiftly by, and the red sun was stooping to the horizon when Mentor rose from his seat and said: "We must be going; the hour of rest is at hand, and to-morrow we have far to go."

"Tarry yet a little," said Nestor, "and eat a morsel and drink a cup with us. And after that, if ye are fain to sleep, ye shall have fit lodging in my house. Heaven forbid that I should suffer such guests as you to sleep on the cold deck, covered with dew, as if I were some needy wretch, with never a blanket to spare for a friend. May the gods preserve me from such a reproach!"

"Thou sayest well," answered Mentor, "and Telemachus shall be thy guest to-night. But for me, I pray thee have me excused. My place is on the ship, that I may give an eye to the crew, for I am the only man of experience among them. And to-morrow I must go to Elis, to recover a debt of long standing due to me there. I leave Telemachus to thy care, that thou mayest cherish him and speed him on his way."

As he said these words, while all eyes were fixed upon him, the speaker vanished from sight, and in his stead a great sea-eagle rose into the air, and sped westwards towards the setting sun. Long they sat speechless and amazed, and Nestor was the first to break the silence. "Great things are in store for thee, my son," said he to Telemachus, "since thou keepest such company thus early in life. This was none other than Jove's mighty daughter, Athene, who honoured thy father so highly among the Greeks. Be gracious to us, our queen, and let thy blessing rest on me and on my house! and I will offer to thee a yearling heifer, that hath never felt the yoke. To thee will I sacrifice her, when I have made gilt her horns with gold."

Then Nestor led the way to his house, and Telemachus sat down with him and his sons in the hall. And they filled a bowl with wine eleven years old, exceeding choice, which was reserved for honoured guests. And after they had finished the bowl, and offered prayer to Athene, they parted for the night. For Telemachus a bed was prepared in the portico, and close by him slept Pisistratus, the youngest of Nestor's sons.

When Telemachus rose next morning he found his host already afoot, giving orders to his sons to prepare the sacrifice to Athene. One was sent to fetch the heifer, another to summon the goldsmith, and a third to bring up the crew of Telemachus' ship, while the rest busied themselves in raising the altar and making all ready for the sacrifice.

Presently the heifer was driven lowing into the courtyard, and the goldsmith followed with the instruments of his art. Nestor gave him gold, and the smith beat it into thin leaf with his hammer, and laid it skilfully over the horns of the heifer. A handmaid brought pure water, and barley-meal in a basket, while one of Nestor's sons stood ready with an axe, and another held a bowl to catch the blood. Then Nestor dipped his hands in the water, took barley-meal from the basket and sprinkled it on the head of the beast, and cutting a tuft of hair from the forehead cast it into the fire. The prayer was spoken, and all due rites being ended he who held the axe smote the heifer on the head, just behind the horns. The women raised the sacrificial cry as the heifer dropped to the ground; and next they whose office it was lifted up the victim's head, and Pisistratus cut the throat. When the last quiver of life was over they flayed the carcass, cut strips of flesh from the thighs, and enveloping them in fat, burnt them on the altar. The gods had now their share of the feast; the rest was cut into slices, and broiled over the live embers.

While the meal was preparing, Telemachus enjoyed the refreshment of a bath; and Polycaste, the youngest of Nestor's daughters, waited on him; for such was the patriarchal simplicity of those days. When he had bathed, and finished his morning meal, the chariot was brought out, and a strong pair of horses led under the yoke. And the house-dame came with a basket, loaded with wine and delicate viands, and placed it behind the seat. Telemachus took his place by the side of Pisistratus, who was to drive the horses; the last farewells were spoken, Pisistratus cracked his whip, and away they went under the echoing gateway, and on through the streets of Pylos.

That night they slept at the house of a friend, and early next day they continued their journey. The way grew steep and difficult, great masses of mountains rose near at hand, and at length they entered a wide valley, covered with waving fields of corn. By sunset they reached the end of their journey, and drew up before the stately portals of King Menelaus.

Telemachus at Sparta


Menelaus was keeping the double marriage feast of his son and daughter, and his house was thronged with wedding guests. All sat silent and attentive, listening to the strains of a harper, and watching the gambols of a pair of tumblers, who were whirling in giddy reels round the hall. Presently voices were heard at the entrance, and one of the squires of Menelaus came and informed his master that two strangers of noble mien were standing without, craving hospitality. "Shall I bring them in," asked the squire, "or send them on to another house?"

"Hast thou lost thy wits?" answered Menelaus in some heat, being touched in his most sensitive point. "Shall we, who owe so much to the kindness of strangers, in the long years of our wanderings, send any man from our doors? Unyoke the horses, and bid our new guests enter."

Four or five servants hastened to do his bidding. The horses, covered with sweat from their hard journey, were unyoked and led into the stable, and Telemachus, with his companion, was ushered with all courtesy into the great hall of Menelaus. The palace was one of the wealthiest and most splendid in Greece; and Telemachus, accustomed to a much humbler style of dwelling, stood amazed at the glories which met his eyes. After bathing and changing their raiment they returned to the hall, and were assigned places close to the chair of Menelaus.

The prince greeted them kindly, and said: "Welcome to our halls, young sirs. Ye are, as I see, of no mean descent, for Zeus has set his stamp on your faces,[1] and none can mistake the signs of kingly birth. When ye have eaten, we will inquire of you further."

[Footnote 1: In Homer, all kings and their families are supposed to be descended from Zeus.]

A plentiful and delicate meal was promptly set before the young travellers, and they ate and drank with keen appetite. When they had finished, Telemachus said to Pisistratus, speaking low, that he might not be overheard: "Dear son of Nestor, is not this a brave place! Hast thou ever seen such lavish ornament of silver, and gold, and ivory? Surely such is the dwelling of Olympian Zeus; more magnificent it can hardly be."

The quick ear of Menelaus caught his last words, and he answered, smiling: "Nay, my friend, no mortal may vie with the everlasting glories of Zeus. But whether any man can equal me in riches, I know not. For indeed I wandered far and long to gather all this treasure, to Cyprus, and Phoenicia, and Egypt, to AEthiopia, and Sidon, and the Afric shore, a land unmatched in its countless multitudes of sheep. There the ewes bring forth young three times a year, and the poorest shepherd has abundance of cheese, and flesh, and milk. From all these lands I gathered many a costly freight, and now I dwell in the midst of plenty. Nevertheless my heart is sad, when I think of all that I have lost. Had I returned home straight from Troy, I should have come back a poor man, for my house had gone to waste in my absence; but I should not have had to mourn for the death of my brother, struck down, as doubtless ye have heard, by a murderer's hand. And then the thought lies heavy upon me of all those who fell in my cause at Troy, and especially of one who was dear to me above all, Odysseus, ever the foremost in every toil and adventure. His image haunts me by day and by night, marring my slumbers, and making my food taste bitter in my mouth. He was a man of many woes, and sorrowful is the lot of his wife Penelope and Telemachus his son."

At this mention of his father Telemachus could not control his tears, but covered his face with his mantle, and wept without restraint. Menelaus saw his emotion, and began to suspect who he was; but for the present he said nothing.

A slight stir was now heard at the back of the hall, and a low murmur went round among the guests, who whispered to each other: "The Queen! The Queen!" And in she came softly, with slow and stately step, Helen, the daughter of Tyndareus, and wife of Menelaus, fairest among all the high-born dames of Greece. Her wondrous beauty was now ripened into matronly perfection, but now and then a shadow seemed to pass over her face, like the ghost of an old sin, long repented and forgiven. A handmaid set a chair for her, throwing over it a soft rug, and brought a footstool for her feet, while another bare a silver basket, with rims of gold, and placed it ready, filled with purple yarn. When Helen was seated, she gazed long and earnestly at Telemachus, and then, turning to her husband, she said; "Menelaus, shall I utter the thought which is in my heart? Nay, speak I must. Ne'er saw I such a likeness, either in man or woman, as is the likeness of this fair youth to Odysseus. Surely this is Telemachus, whom he left an infant in Ithaca when the host was summoned to Troy to fight in a worthless woman's cause."

"I have marked it too," answered Menelaus. "Such were his very hands and feet, and the carriage of his head, and the glance of his eye. Moreover, when I made mention of Odysseus he covered his face, and wept full sore."

Telemachus was still too much distressed to speak, and Pisistratus had to answer for him: "Thou sayest truly, my lord; it is Telemachus himself. Nestor sent me with him to inquire of thee, and crave counsel of thy wisdom. He is left like an orphan in his home, with none to aid him, and take his father's place."

Then Menelaus drew near to Telemachus, and taking his hand kindly said: "Welcome again, and thrice welcome to these halls, thou son of my trustiest friend and helper! It was the dream of my life to bring Odysseus and all his household from Ithaca, and give him a home and a city in this land, that we might grow old together in friendship and loving-kindness, never to be parted until death. But envious heaven has blighted my hopes and hindered his return."

At these sad words every eye was moist, and all sat silent, absorbed in sorrowful memories. Pisistratus was the first to speak, and his words roused the rest from their melancholy mood. "Son of Atreus," he said, "my father has often spoken of thy wisdom, and perchance it has taught thee that sorrow is an ill guest at a banquet. The dead, indeed, claim their due, and he would be hard-hearted who would grudge them the poor tribute of a tear. But we cannot mourn for ever, even for such a one as my brother Antilochus, whom I never saw, but thou knewest him well, stout in battle, and swift in the pursuit."

"'Tis well said," replied Menelaus. "Thou art wise beyond thy years, and a true son of Nestor. Happy is he, beyond the common lot of men, and smooth and fair runs the thread of his Destiny. He dwells in a green old age in his father's house, and sees his sons growing up around him, true heirs of his valour and prudence. Now let us banish care, and get to our supper, for the day is far spent, and we have matter for talk which will last us all the morrow."

When they had finished eating, and the cups were about to be replenished, Helen rose from her seat, and, whispering a few words to the cupbearer, left the hall. In a few minutes she returned, carrying in her hand a small phial, whose contents she poured into the great mixing-bowl from which the cups were filled. "Now, drink," she said, "and fear not that black care will pay us a second visit to-night. I have poured into the wine a drug of wondrous potency and virtue, which was given me in Egypt by Polydamna, the wife of Thon. Many such drugs the soil of Egypt bears, some baneful and some good. And the Egyptians are skilled in such craft beyond all mankind. He who drinks of this drug will be armed for that day against all the assaults of sorrow, and will not shed one tear, though his father and mother were to die, no, not though he saw his brother or his son slain before his eyes. So mighty is the virtue of this drug." And when they had drunk of the magic potion Helen began again: "'Tis now the witching hour, when all hearts are opened, and the burden of life presses lightest on men's shoulders. Come, let me tell you a story, one among many, of the deeds and the hardihood of Odysseus. It was in the days of the siege, and the Trojans were kept close prisoners in their city by the leaguer of the Greeks. Then he disguised himself as a beggar, clothed himself in filthy rags, and marred his goodly person with cruel stripes. In such fashion he entered the foemen's walls, as if he were a slave flying from a hard master.[1] And I alone in all the city knew who he was. So I brought him to my house, and began to question him; but he made as if he understood not. But when I entertained him as an honoured guest, and swore a solemn oath not to betray him, he trusted me, and declared all the purpose of the Greeks. At dead of night he stole out into the town, and, having slain many of the Trojans with the edge of the sword, he went back to the camp, and brought much information to his friends.

[Footnote 1: Compare the stratagem of Zopyrus, in "Stories from Greek History."]

"When morning came, the voice of wailing rose high in the streets of Troy; but my heart rejoiced, for I was filled with longing for my home, and my eyes were opened to the folly which I had wrought by the beguilement of Aphrodite, when I left my fatherland and broke faith with my lord."

"Tis a good story, and thou hast told it well, fair wife," said Menelaus. "Now hear my tale. It was the time when I and the other champions were shut up in the wooden horse; and Odysseus was with us. Then thou camest thither, led, I suppose, by some god, hostile to Greece, who wished to work our ruin; and Deiphobus followed thee. Three times thou didst pace around our hollow ambush, feeling it with thy hands, and calling aloud to the princes of Greece by name; and thy voice was like the voice of all their wives. There we sat, I, and Diomede, and the rest, and heard thee calling. Now I and Diomede were minded to answer thee, or to go forth and confer with thee; but Odysseus suffered it not, and when one of our number was about to lift up his voice he pressed his hands on that foolish mouth, and restrained him by force until thou hadst left the place. And so he saved all our lives."

"Yes," said Telemachus, "he had a heart of iron. But what has it availed him? It could not save him from ruin. Howbeit, no more of this; 'tis time to go to rest and forget our cares in sleep."


Early next morning Telemachus found his host sitting by his bedside; and as soon as he was dressed Menelaus led him to a quiet place, and inquired the reason of his coming. He listened with attention while Telemachus explained the purpose of his visit; but when he heard of the suitors, and their riot and waste, he was filled with indignation.

"What!" he cried, "would these dastards fill the seat and wed the wife of that mighty man? Their lot shall be the lot of a pair of fawns, left by the mother hind in a lion's lair. The hind goes forth to pasture, and in her absence the lion returns, and devours them where they lie. Even so shall Odysseus return, and bring swift destruction on the whole crew.

"But thou hast asked me what I know of the fortunes of Odysseus, since he departed from Troy; and verily I will tell thee all that I have heard, without turning aside in my tale. I must go back to the time when I lay wind-bound with my ships in a little island off the mouth of the Nile. The island is called Pharos, and it is distant a day's voyage from the river's mouth. I had lain there twenty days, and still not a breath of air ruffled the glassy surface of the sea. All our stores were consumed, and we had nothing to eat but the fish which my men caught with rudely fashioned hooks and lines. One day I left my men busy with their angling, and wandered away along the shore, full of sad thoughts, and wondering how all this would end. Suddenly I heard a light footstep on the pebbles, and there stepped forth from behind a tall rock a young maiden in white, flowing robes. Full of dread I saw her coming towards me; for I knew that she was no mortal woman. But her look was gracious, and her voice was sweet; so I took courage as she said: 'Who art thou, stranger, and why lingerest thou with thy company in this desert place? I am Eidothea, daughter of Proteus, the ancient one of the sea; and I am ready to help thee, if thou wilt tell me thy need.'

"Then I told her how I had been kept an unwilling captive on the island, and begged her to let me know what power I had offended, that he might be appeased by sacrifice, and suffer the wind to blow. 'There is one who can tell thee all that thou desirest to know,' answered she. 'Yea, Proteus, my father, will show thee how to win thy path across the watery waste. No secrets are hidden from him, neither on earth nor in the sea; and he can tell thee all that hath befallen in thy house in the long years of thine absence. Now hearken, and I will tell thee how thou mayest wring from him all his secrets. Every day at noon he comes forth from the sea, and lays him down to sleep in a rocky cave; and about him are couched his herd of seals. I will bring thee to the place in the early morning, and set thee in ambush to await his coming. Choose three of the stoutest of thy men to aid thee in the adventure, and as soon as thou seest him asleep rush upon him and hold him fast. He will struggle hard, and take a hundred different shapes; but loose him not until he return to his own form, and then will he reveal to thee all that he has to tell.'

"So saying, the goddess disappeared beneath the waves. Next morning I went with three picked men to the appointed place, and soon Eidothea arrived, bearing four hides of seals, freshly flayed. Then she hollowed out four pits in the sand for us to lie in, and clothed us in the skins, and couched us together. Now that bed had like to have been our last, for we were stifled by the dreadful stench of the seabred seals. But the goddess saw our distress, and found a remedy; for she brought ambrosia and set it beneath our nostrils, and that heavenly perfume overpowered the noisome stench.

"So all the morning we lay and wafted patiently, and at noon the seals came up out of the sea and lay down in order on the sand. Last of all came Proteus, and counted his herd, reckoning us among their number, with no suspicion of guile. We waited until he was fast asleep, and then we rushed from our ambush and seized him hand and foot. Long and hard was the struggle, and many the shapes which he took. First he became a bearded lion, then a snake, then a leopard, then a huge boar; after these he turned into running water and a tall, leafy tree. But we only held him the more firmly, and at last he grew weary and spake to me in his own shape: 'What wouldst thou have, son of Atreus, and who has taught thee to outwit me and take me captive by craft?'

"'Thou knowest my need,' I answered; 'why dost thou waste thy words? Tell me rather how I may find release from my present strait'

"'Hear, then,' said he: 'thou hast forgotten thy duty to Zeus and the other gods. Not a victim bled, not a prayer was offered, when thou didst embark on this voyage. Go back to Egypt, to the holy waters of Nile, and there pay thy vows, and offer a great sacrifice to their offended deity; thus, and thus only, canst thou win thy return to thine own country and thy stately home.'

"When I heard this my heart was broken within me, to think of that long and perilous path across the misty deep. Nevertheless I consented to take that journey, for I saw no other way of escape. And after I had promised to obey him, I began to inquire further of the fate of Nestor and the rest, whom I left behind me on my way home.

"''Tis a grievous story that thou requirest of me,' said Proteus, 'and thou shalt have little joy in the hearing. Many have been taken and many left. Two only perished in returning, and one is still living, a prisoner of the sea. Ajax has paid his debt to Athene, whose shrine he polluted; and this was the manner of his death: when his vessel was shattered by that great tempest, he himself escaped to a rock, for Poseidon came to his aid. But even the peril which he had just escaped could not subdue his haughtiness and his pride, and he uttered an impious vaunt, boasting that in despite of heaven he had escaped a watery grave. Then Poseidon was wroth, and smote the rock with his trident, and that half of the rock on which Ajax was sitting fell into the sea, bearing him with it. So he died, when he had drunk the brine.

"'Now harden thy heart, and learn how thy brother Agamemnon fell. After a long and stormy voyage he at length brought his shattered vessels safe into harbour, and set foot on his native soil at Argos. With tears of joy and thankfulness he fell on his knees and kissed the sod, trusting that now his sorrows were passed. Now there was a watchman whom AEgisthus had posted on a high place commanding the sea to look out for Agamemnon's return. A whole year he watched, for he had been promised a great reward. And when he saw the king's face he went with all speed to tell his master. Forthwith AEgisthus prepared an ambush of twenty armed men; these he kept in hiding at the back of the hall, while he ordered his servants to prepare a great banquet. Then he went to meet Agamemnon with horses and with chariots, and brought him to his house, and made good cheer. And when he had feasted him he smote and slew him, as a man slaughters an ox in his stall.'

"At that tale of horror I fell upon the sand, weeping bitterly, for I had no desire to live any longer or look on the light of the sun. Long I lay mourning, as one who had lost all hope, but at last Proteus checked the torrent of my passion, and bade me take thought of my own homecoming. 'This is no time,' he said, 'to melt away in womanish grief. Haste thee to take vengeance, if so be that Orestes hath not forestalled thee, and slain his father's murderer.'

"Somewhat comforted by these words, I took courage to ask who was the man of whom he had spoken as a prisoner of the sea. 'It is the son of Laertes,' answered Proteus, 'Odysseus, whose home is in Ithaca. I myself saw him on an island, in the house of the nymph Calypso; and sore he wept because he could not leave the goddess, who holds him in thrall, and will not suffer him to return to his country.'

"Lastly, he told me concerning my own fate. 'Thou, Menelaus,' he said, 'art exempt from the common lot of men, because thou art the husband of Helen, and she is a daughter of Zeus. Therefore it is not appointed for thee to die, but when thine hour is come the gods shall convey thee to the Elysian fields, where dwell the elect spirits in everlasting blessedness. There falls not snow nor rain, there blows no rude blast, but the fresh cool breath of the west comes softly from Ocean to refresh them that dwell in that happy clime.'"

Thus happily ended the story of the Spartan prince's wanderings. And when he had finished, he pressed Telemachus to prolong his visit; but that prudent youth declined the invitation, pleading the necessity of a speedy return to Ithaca, that he might keep an eye on the doings of the suitors. Menelaus was compelled to allow the justice of his plea, and accordingly all things were made ready for a speedy departure.


We must now return to Ithaca, and see what reception was preparing for Telemachus when he came back from his adventurous journey. Two or three days after he left Ithaca the suitors were gathered before the doors of Odysseus, playing at quoits, or hurling their javelins at a mark. Presently a young noble came up to the group, and addressing Antinous, who was watching the sport, asked him if he had heard aught of Telemachus. "I would fain know how long he is like to be absent from Ithaca," he said; "for he has borrowed my ship, and I have need of her. Know ye when he is to return from Pylos?"

Antinous heard him with amazement; for neither he nor any other of the suitors knew that Telemachus had sailed from Ithaca, supposing him to be absent on his farm. So he questioned the youth closely as to the time and manner of that voyage, how the crew was composed, and whether the vessel was lent willingly, or taken by force. "Of my own free will I lent her," answered the lad, "why should I not help him in his need? As to the crew, they were all picked men, and well born; and the captain was Mentor, or some god in his likeness; for I saw Mentor yesterday in the town, and not a ship has touched at Ithaca since they sailed."

When he who had lent the ship was departed the suitors left their sports, and drawing close together began to converse in low tones. They were full of anger against Telemachus because of this journey, which gave the lie to their malicious prophecies, and was not without prospect of danger to themselves. Accordingly Antinous found ready hearers when he stood up and spoke as follows:—"This forward boy must be put down, or he will mar our wooing. It is a great deed which he has done, and he will not stop here, unless we find means to cut short his adventures. Now hear what I advise: let us man a ship and moor her in the narrow sea between Ithaca and Samos, and lie in wait for him there. This cruise of his is like to cost him dear."

The plan was highly approved, and the whole body rose and entered the house together, resolved to act at once on the advice of Antinous. Before long news of their wicked designs came to the ears of Penelope, who was still ignorant of her son's departure; for Eurycleia had kept her counsel well. The evil tidings were brought by Medon, a servant in the house of Odysseus, who had overheard the suitors plotting together, while he stood concealed behind a buttress of the courtyard fence. Without delay he went in search of Penelope, whom he found sitting with her handmaids in her chamber. As soon as he appeared on the threshold Penelope looked at him reproachfully, and said: "What message bringest thou from thy fair masters? Is it their pleasure that my maidens should leave their tasks and spread the board for them? Out on your feasting and your wooing! May this be the last morsel that ye ever taste! Ungrateful men, have ye forgotten all the good deeds that were wrought here by the hands of Odysseus, and all the kindness that ye received from him? Yes, all is forgotten; ye have no thought in your hearts but to grow fat at his cost, and devour his living."

"Alas! lady," answered Medon, "would that this were the worst! But I am the bearer of heavier news than this. Telemachus has sailed to Pylos, to inquire concerning his father, and the suitors have plotted to slay him on his way home." Having delivered his message, Medon left the chamber, and the door was shut.

Long Penelope sat without a word, struck dumb by this cruel blow. Then, as if seized by a sudden thought, she rose from her seat, and took two paces towards the door. But her strength failing her she tottered backward, and sank down upon the ground, leaning against the wall. Her handmaids gathered round her, and would have lifted her up, but she waved them off and at last gave utterance to her feelings in wailing and broken tones:

"Woeful beyond the lot of all women on earth is my portion! First, I lost my lion-hearted lord, rich in every excellent gift, a hero among heroes; and now the powers of the air[1] have carried off my child, my well-beloved, without one word of farewell. Hearts of stone, why did ye not tell me of his going? Had I known his purpose I would have prevailed on him to stay, or he must have left me dead in these halls. Go, one of you, and call Dolius, the keeper of my garden and orchard, and send him to tell all to Laertes, if haply he may devise some way to turn the hearts of the people, and save his race from being utterly cut off."

[Footnote 1: Demons, to whom sudden disappearance was attributed.]

"Sweet lady," answered Eurycleia, who was sitting among the women, "I will tell thee all the truth, and then thou shalt slay me, if it be thy will. I was privy to this journey, and Telemachus made me swear a solemn oath not to reveal it to thee until twelve days were passed, or thou hadst heard of it from others. For he feared that thou wouldst waste thy fair cheeks with weeping. But be not cast down; I am sure that the gods hate not so utterly the house of Odysseus, nor purpose to destroy it altogether. Vex not the old man Laertes in his sorrow, but go wash thyself, put on clean raiment, and go up and pray to Athene in thy upper chamber to guard and keep thy son from harm."

Then Penelope was comforted, and dried her tears, and went up with her handmaids to the upper chamber. There she made her offering before the shrine of Athene, and lifted up her voice in prayer: "Daughter of Zeus, stern warrior maiden, if ever my lord Odysseus offered acceptable sacrifice to thee, remember now his service, save my son, and let not the wooers work evil against him." When her prayer was ended the women joined their voices with hers, and called again and again on the awful name of Athene. After that they left her, and she sank down on a couch, exhausted by her emotions, and full of anxious thought. At length she ceased her weary tossing, and fell into a quiet and refreshing sleep.

Athene had heard her prayer, and being full of pity for the sorely tried lady she resolved to find means to soothe her troubled spirit. So she made a phantom, like in form and in feature to Iphthime, a sister of Penelope, who lived with her husband in distant Pherae. And the phantom came to the house of Penelope, and entering her chamber by the keyhole, stood by her bedside and spake to her thus: "Sorrow not at all, nor vex thy soul for the sake of Telemachus. The gods love thy son, and will bring him safe home."

Then wise Penelope made answer, slumbering right sweetly at the gates of dreams: "Dear sister, what has brought thee hither from thy far distant home? Thou biddest me take comfort, but my heart is torn with fear and grief for my brave lord, and yet more for Telemachus, who is encompassed with perils by sea and by land." "Fear nothing," answered the dim phantom. "He has a mighty helper by his side, even Pallas Athene, who sent me hither to strengthen and console thee." With that the ghostly visitor vanished as it came, and left Penelope much cheered by the clear vision which had brought her words of healing at the blackest hour of the night.

Meanwhile Antinous had taken steps to carry out his villainous design. At nightfall he went down to the sea with twenty picked men, boarded the vessel which had been prepared for their use, and sailed out to a little island which lies in the middle of the strait between Samos and Ithaca. There they anchored in a sheltered bay, and waited for the coming of Telemachus.

Odysseus and Calypso


We have waited long for the appearance of Odysseus, and at last he is about to enter the scene, which he will never leave again until the final act of the great drama is played out. Hitherto he has been pursued by the malice of Poseidon, who wrecked his fleet, drowned all his men, and kept him confined for seven years in Calypso's island, in vengeance for the blinding of his son Polyphemus.

But now the prayers of Athene have prevailed, and Hermes, the messenger of the gods, is on his way from Olympus, bearing a peremptory summons to Calypso to let Odysseus depart. Shod with his golden, winged sandals, which bear him, swift as the wind, over moist and dry, and holding in his hand his magic wand, Hermes skimmed like a seagull over the blue waters of the AEgaean, until he came to that far distant isle. Arrived there, he went straight to the great cavern where Calypso dwelt; and he found her there, walking about her room, weaving with a golden shuttle, and singing sweetly at her work. A great fire was blazing on the hearth, sending forth a sweet odour of cedar and sandal-wood. Round about the cavern grew a little wood of blossoming trees, "alder and poplar tall, and cypress sweet of smell"; and there owls and hawks and cormorants built their nests. Over the threshold was trained a wide-branching vine, with many a purple cluster and wealth of rustling leaves. Four springs of clear water welled up before the cave, and wandered down to the meadows where the violet and parsley grew. It was a choice and cool retreat, meet dwelling for a lovely nymph.

Calypso greeted her visitor kindly, bade him be seated, and set nectar and ambrosia before him. And when he had refreshed himself, he told his message. "I bear the commands of Zeus," he said, "and to do his high will have I travelled this long and weary way. It is said that thou keepest with thee a man of many woes, who has suffered more than any of those who fought at Troy. Him thou art commanded to send away from thee with all speed; for it is not destined for him to end his days here, but the hour has come when he must go back to his home and country, Zeus has spoken, and thou must obey."

This was bitter news to Calypso, for she loved Odysseus, and would have made him immortal, that he might abide with her for ever. She wrung her hands, and said in a mournful voice: "Now I know of a truth that the gods are a jealous race, and will not suffer one of their kind to wed with a mortal mate. Therefore Orion fell by the unseen arrows of Artemis, when fair Aurora chose him for her lord; and therefore Zeus slew Iasion with his lightning, because he was loved of Demeter. Is not Odysseus mine? Did I not save him and cherish him when he was flung naked and helpless on these shores? But since no other deity may evade or frustrate the will of Zeus, let him go, and I will show him how he may reach his own country without scathe."

When he had heard Calypso's answer, Hermes took leave of her, and returned to Olympus, and the nymph went down to the part of the shore where she knew Odysseus was accustomed to sit. There he would remain all day, gazing tearfully over the barren waste of waters, and wearing out his soul with ceaseless lamentation. For he had long grown weary of his soft slavery in Calypso's cave, and yearned with exceeding great desire for the familiar hills of Ithaca, so rugged, but so dear. And there Calypso found him now, sitting on a rock with dejected mien. She sat down at his side, and said: "A truce to thy complaints, thou man of woes! Thou hast thy wish; I will let thee go with all good-will, and I will show thee how to build a broad raft, which shall bear thee across the misty deep. I will victual her with corn and wine, and clothe thee in new garments, and send a breeze behind thee to waft thee safe. Thus am I commanded by the gods, whose dwelling is in the wide heaven, and their will I do. Up now and fell me yon tall trees for timber to make the raft."

Odysseus was by nature a very shrewd and cautious man, and he feared that Calypso was contriving some mischief against him, in revenge for his coldness. He looked at her doubtfully, and answered: "I fear thee, nymph, and I mistrust thy purpose. How shall a man cross this dreadful gulf, where no ship is ever seen, on a raft? And though that were possible, I will never leave thee against thy will. Swear to me now that thou intendest me no harm."

Calypso smiled at his suspicions, and patted him on the shoulder as she answered: "Thou art a sad rogue, and very deep of wit, as anyone may see by these words of thine. Now hear me swear: Witness, thou earth, and the wide heaven above us, and the dark waterfall of Styx, the greatest and most awful thing by which a god may swear, that I intend no ill, but only good, to this man."

Having sworn that oath Calypso rose, and bidding Odysseus follow led the way to her cave. There she set meat before him, such as mortal men eat, and wine to drink; but she herself was served by her handmaids with immortal food, and nectar, the wine of the gods. When they had supped, Calypso looked at Odysseus and said: "And wilt thou indeed leave me, thou strange man? Am I not tall and fair, and worthy to be called a daughter of heaven? And is thy Penelope so rare a dame, that thou preferrest her to me! Ah! if thou knewest all the toils which await thee before thou reachest thy home, and all the perils prepared for thee there, thou wouldst renounce thy purpose, and dwell for ever with me. Nevertheless go, if go thou must, and my blessing go with thee."

Her words were kind, but some anger lurked in her tone, which Odysseus hastened to appease. "Fair goddess," he answered, "be not wroth with me. I know that thou art more lovely far than my wife Penelope; for thou art divine, and she is but a mortal woman. Nevertheless I long day and night to see her face, and to sit beneath the shadow of my own rooftree. And if I be stricken again by the hand of Heaven on the purple sea, I will bear it, for I have a very patient heart. Long have I toiled, and much have I suffered, amid waves and wars. If more remains, I will endure that also."


At early dawn, when the eastern wave was just silvered by the dim light, Calypso roused Odysseus, and equipped him for the task of the day. First she gave him a weighty two-edged axe, well balanced on its haft of olive-wood, and an adze, freshly ground; then she showed him where the tall trees grew, and bade him fall to work with the axe. Twenty great trees fell beneath his sturdy strokes, and he trimmed the trunks with the axe, and stripped off the bark. Meanwhile Calypso had brought him an augur, and he bored the timbers, and fitted them together, and fastened them with bolts and cross-pieces. So the raft grew under his hands, broad as the floor of a stout merchantship. And he fenced her with bulwarks, piling up blocks of wood to steady them. Last of all he made mast and sail and rigging; and when all was ready he thrust the frail vessel with rollers and levers down to the sea.

Four times the sun had risen and set before his labour was ended; and on the fifth day Calypso brought him provisions for the voyage, a great goatskin bottle full of water, and a smaller one of wine, and a sack of corn, with other choice viands as a relish to his bread.

A joyful man was Odysseus when he spread his sail, and took his place at the helm, and waved a last farewell to his gentle friend. A fair breeze wafted him swiftly from the shore, and ere long that lovely island, at once his home and his prison for seven long years, became a mere shadow in the distance. All night he sat sleepless, tiller in hand, watching the pilot stars, the Pleiades, and Booetes, and the Bear, named also the Wain, which turns on one spot, and watches Orion, and never dips into the ocean stream. For the goddess Calypso had bidden him keep that star on the left hand as he sailed the seas. Thus he voyaged for seventeen days, and on the eighteenth he saw afar off, dimly outlined, a range of hills, rising, like the back of a shield, above the horizon's verge.

Now Poseidon, his great enemy, had been absent for many days on a far journey, and thus had taken no part in the council at Olympus when Zeus had issued his order for the release of Odysseus. Just at this time he was on his way back to Olympus, and caught sight of the bold voyager steering towards the nearest land. "Ha! art thou there?" said the implacable god, shaking his head; "and have the other powers plotted against me in my absence, to frustrate my just anger? Thy wanderings are well-nigh over, poor wretch! But thou shalt taste once more of my vengeance, before thou reachest yonder shore."

So saying the lord of ocean took his trident and stirred up the deep; and the clouds came trooping at his call, covering the sky with a black curtain. Soon a great tempest broke loose, blowing in violent and fitful blasts from all the four quarters of heaven. Then pale fear got hold of Odysseus, as he saw the great curling billows heaving round his frail craft. "Woe is me!" he cried, "when shall my troubles have an end? Surely the goddess spoke truth, when she foretold me that I should perish amid the waves, and never see my home again. Here I lie helpless, given over to destruction, the sport of all the winds of heaven. Happy, thrice happy, were my comrades who fell fighting bravely and found honourable burial in the soil of Troy! Would that I had died on that great day when the battle raged fiercest over the body of Pelides; then should I have found death with honour, but now I am doomed to a miserable and dishonoured end."

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse