Presently a rustling sound was heard, like the sound of the autumn wind in the dry leaves of the forest; it grew louder and louder, and out of the gloom the ghosts came flocking, youths and maidens cut off in their bloom, old men with all their burden of sorrow, and warriors slain in battle, still wearing the bloodstained armour. With a wild unearthly cry they came crowding to the trench, eager to drink of the blood. But Odysseus, though quaking with fear, stood his ground firmly, and held his drawn sword over the trench to keep off the multitude, until he had seen and spoken with Teiresias.
[Footnote 1: Compare "Stories from the AEneid," p. 119.]
Among the hosts of spirits there was one who lingered near the trench, and seemed by his beseeching gestures and earnest looks to desire speech with Odysseus. When his first fears were over Odysseus recognised the features of Elpenor, who had come to an untimely end on the morning of their journey, and whose body still lay unburied in the house of Circe. Registering a mental vow to perform all due rites to that poor spirit on his homeward voyage, Odysseus warned him back, and stood waiting for the coming of the seer.
At last came one with tottering footsteps, leaning on a golden sceptre, and halted on the farther edge of the trench. It seemed a very aged man, with flowing white beard, and sightless eyes; and Odysseus knew by these signs that he was in the presence of Teiresias, the famous prophet of Thebes, who alone among departed spirits preserves his understanding, while the rest are flitting phantoms, with no sense at all. "What wouldst thou of me, Odysseus, son of Laertes," said the spectre in faltering tones, "and wherefore hast thou left the glad light of day to visit this drear and joyless realm of the dead? Draw back from the trench, and put up thy sword in its sheath, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee all that thou wouldst know."
Thereupon Odysseus fell back, and sheathed his sword; and Teiresias, when he had drunk of the blood, spoke again in firmer and clearer tones: "Thou art fain to hear of thy home-coming, illustrious hero; but thy path to Ithaca shall be beset with sorrows, because of the wrath of Poseidon, whose son, Polyphemus, thou hast blinded. Nevertheless thou and all thy company shall return safe to Ithaca, if only ye leave untouched the sacred flocks and herds of Helios, when ye come to the island of Thrinacia. But if harm befall them at your hands, from that hour thy ship and all her crew are doomed and forfeit to destruction: and though thou thyself escape, yet thou shalt return after many days, in evil plight, to a house of woe. And now learn how thou mayest at last appease the anger of the god who pursues thee with his vengeance. When thou art once more master in thine own house thou shalt go on a far journey, carrying with thee an oar of thy vessel, until thou comest to a people that dwell far from the sea, and know naught of ships or the mariner's art. And there shalt meet thee by the way a man who shall say that thou bearest a winnowing shovel on thy shoulder; and this shall be a sign unto thee, whereby thou shalt know that thou hast reached the end of thy journey. Then plant thy oar in the ground, and offer sacrifice to Poseidon. This shall be the end of thy toils, and death shall come softly upon thee where thou dwellest in a green old age among thy happy people."
[Footnote 1: The sun god.]
[Footnote 2: The very words of Polyphemus, p. 93.]
[Footnote 3: The oar.]
When he had thus spoken Teiresias vanished into the darkness; and one by one the spirits came up to the trench, as Odysseus suffered them, and having drunk of the blood obtained strength to speak and answer his questions. First among them was the spirit of his mother, Anticleia, daughter of Autolycus, who had been hovering near during his conference with Teiresias. When she had drunk she said: "Whence comest thou, my son? Art thou still wandering on thy long voyage from Troy, or hast thou been in Ithaca, and seen thy wife?"
"Nay, mother," answered Odysseus, "I am wandering still, still treading the path of woe, since the day when I followed Agamemnon to Troy. But tell me now, and answer me truly, what was the manner of thy death? Came it slowly, by long disease, or did Artemis lay thee low in a moment with a painless arrow from her bow? And tell me of my father and my son whom I left in Ithaca; do they still hold my possessions, or hath some other thrust them with violence from my seat? Tell me also of Penelope, my wedded wife, whether she abides steadfast and guards my goods, or whether she is gone to cheer some other man's heart."
[Footnote 1: Sudden death was ascribed to Artemis or Apollo.]
"Steadfast indeed she is," replied Anticleia, "and wondrous patient of heart; all her thoughts are ever of thee. No one has yet usurped thy place in Ithaca, but Telemachus still reaps thy fields and sits down to meat with the noblest in the land. As to thy father, he comes no more to the town, but dwells continually on his farm. He lives not delicately, as princes use, but is clad in sorry raiment, and sleeps in the winter among the ashes of the hearth with his thralls, and in summer on a bed of dry leaves in his vineyard. There he lies forsaken, heavy with years and sorrows, mourning for thee. And in such wise also death came upon me, neither by wasting sickness nor by the gentle shafts of Artemis, but my sore longing for thee, Odysseus, and for thy sweet counsels, at last broke my heart."
A flood of tenderness overpowered Odysseus at these sad words, and he sprang forward with arms outstretched to clasp his mother to his breast. Thrice he essayed to embrace her, and thrice his arms closed on emptiness, while that ghostly presence still flitted before him like a shadow or a dream. "O my mother," cried Odysseus in deep distress, "why dost thou mock me thus? Come to my heart, dear mother; let me hold thee in mine arms once more, and mingle my tears with thine. Or art thou but the shadow of a shade, a phantom sent by Persephone to deceive me?"
[Footnote 1: Compare "Stories from the AEneid," p. 24.]
"Persephone deceives thee not," answered the ghost, "but this is the fashion of mortals when they die. Flesh and bone and sinew are consumed by the might of fire, but the spirit takes flight and hovers ever like a winged dream. But make haste and get thee back to the daylight, and keep all that thou hast seen in memory that thou mayest tell it to thy wife."
When the spirit of Anticleia was gone, a shadowy throng pressed forward to the trench, all the ghosts of noble dames, wives and daughters of princes. And Odysseus kept his place, sword in hand, suffering them only to drink one by one, that he might question them and learn their story. There he saw Alcmene, the mother of Hercules, and Leda, to whose twin sons, Castor and Pollux, a strange destiny was allotted; for after their death they rose to life again on alternate days, one lying in the tomb, while the other walked the earth as a living man. There too was Iphimedeia, mother of the giants Otus and Ephialtes, who at nine years of age were nine fathoms in height and nine cubits in breadth. Haughty were they, and presumptuous in their youth; for they made war on the gods, and piled Ossa on Olympus, and Pelion on Ossa, that they might scale the sky. But they perished in their impiety, shot down by the bolts of Apollo's golden bow. Last came Eriphyle, the false wife, who sold her husband's life for a glittering bribe.
That dream of fair women melted away and another ghostly band succeeded, the souls of great captains and mighty men of war. Foremost among these was seen one of regal port, around whom was gathered a choice company of veteran warriors, all gored and gashed with recent wounds. He who seemed their leader stretched out his hands towards Odysseus with a piteous gesture, and tears such as spirits weep gushed from his eyes. Instantly Odysseus recognised in that stricken spirit his great commander Agamemnon, once the proud captain of a thousand ships, now wandering, forlorn and feeble, with all his glory faded.
[Footnote 1: "Tears such as angels weep," Milton, "Paradise Lost," i. 619.]
"Royal son of Atreus," he said, in a voice broken with weeping, "is it here that I find thee, great chieftain of the embattled Greeks? Say, how comest thou hither, and what arm aimed the stroke which laid thee low?" "Not in honour's field did I fall," answered Agamemnon, "nor yet amid the waves. It was a traitor's hand that cut me off, the hand of AEgisthus, and the guile of my accursed wife. He feasted me at his board, and slaughtered me as one slaughters a stalled ox; and all my company fell with me in that den of butchery. It was pitiful to see all that brave band of veterans writhing in their death agony among the tables loaded with good cheer, and goblets brimming with wine. But that which gave me my sorest pang was the dying shriek of Cassandra, daughter of Priam, who was struck down at my side by the dagger of Clytaemnestra. Then the murderess turned away and left me with staring eyes and mouth gaping in death. For naught is so vile, naught so cruel, as a woman who hath hardened her heart to tread the path of crime. Even so did she break her marriage vows, and afterwards slew the husband of her youth. I thought to have found far other welcome when I passed under the shadow of mine own roof-tree. But this demon-wife imagined evil against me, and brought infamy on the very name of woman."
"Strange ordinance of Zeus!" said Odysseus musingly, "which hath turned the choicest blessing of man's life, the love of woman, into the bitterest of curses for thee and for thy house. Yea, and upon all the land of Hellas hath woe been brought by the deed of a woman—Helen, thy brother's wife."
"Ay, trust them not," replied Agamemnon bitterly, "Never give thy heart into a woman's keeping; she will rifle thy very soul's flower, and then laugh thee to scorn. But why do I speak thus to thee? Thou hast indeed a treasure in thy wife; no wiser head, no truer heart, than hers. Happy art thou, and sweet the refuge which is prepared for thee after all thy toils, Well I remember the day when we set sail from Greece, and how fondly thou spakest of her, thy young bride, with her babe at her breast. Now he will be a tall youth, and with what joy will he look into the eyes of his father, whom he was then too young to know!"
After that Odysseus was silent, his mind full of sweet and anxious thoughts. Meanwhile other familiar forms had drawn near, the spirits of warriors renowned, whose very names were as a battle-cry when they dwelt on earth: Achilles, Patroclus, and Antilochus, and farther off, looming dimly in the darkness, the gigantic shade of Ajax. Achilles was the first to speak. "Son of Laertes," he said, "thou man of daring, hast thou reached the limit of thy rashness, or wilt thou go yet further? Are there no perils left for thee in the land of the living that thou must invade the very realm of Hades, the sunless haunts of the dead?"
"I came to inquire of Teiresias," answered Odysseus, "concerning my return to Ithaca. All my life I am a bondslave to toil and woe; but thou, Achilles, wast happy in thy life, honoured as a god by all the sons of Hellas; and now thou art happy, even in death, for honour waits on thy footsteps still."
"Tell me not of comfort in death," replied Achilles. "Rather would I breathe the air of heaven, yea, though I were thrall to a man of little substance, than reign as king over all the shades of the dead. But give me some news of my son, Neoptolemus. Came he to fight with the Trojans after I was gone, and did he acquit him well? And knowest thou aught of my father, Peleus? Lives he still in honour and comfort among my people, or has he been driven into beggary by violent men, now that he is old and I am not near to aid him? Oh, for an hour of life, with such might as was mine when I fought in the van for Greece? Then should they pay a bitter reckoning, whosoever they be that wrong him and keep him from his own."
"Of Peleus," answered Odysseus, "I have heard nothing, but of thy son, Neoptolemus, I can tell thee much, for I myself brought him from Scyros to fight in Helen's cause, and thereafter my eye was ever upon him, to mark how he bore himself. In council none could vie with him, save only Nestor and myself; ne'er saw I so rare a wit in so young a head. And when the Greeks were arrayed in battle against the Trojans he was never seen to hang back, but fought ever in the van among the foremost champions, like a mighty man of war. Nor was it only in the clamour and heat of war that he proved his mettle; for in that perilous hour when we lay ambushed in the wooden horse, when the stoutest hearts among us quailed, he never changed colour, but sat fingering his spear and sword, waiting for the signal to go forth to the assault. And after we had sacked the lofty towers of Troy he received a goodly portion of the spoil, and a special prize of honour, and so departed, untouched by point or blade, to his father's house."
When he heard these brave tidings of his son, Achilles rejoiced in spirit, and strode with lofty gait along the plain of asphodel.
So one by one the spirits came up, and inquired of Odysseus of their dear ones at home. Only the soul of Ajax, son of Telamon, stood sullenly aloof; for between him and Odysseus there was an old quarrel. After the death of Achilles a dispute arose among the surviving chieftains for the possession of his armour. It was decided to refer the matter to the Trojan captives in the camp, and they were asked who of all the Greeks had done them most harm. They answered in favour of Odysseus, who accordingly received the armour. Thereupon Ajax fell into a frenzy of rage, and slew himself. When Odysseus saw him, and marked his unforgiving mood, he was filled with remorse and pity, and strove to soften his resentment with gentle words. "Ah! son of Telamon," he said, "canst thou not forgive me, even here? Sorely the Argives mourned thee, and heavy was the loss brought on them by thy rash act. Thou wast a very tower of strength to the host, and we wept for thee as for a second Achilles. Draw near, great prince, subdue thy haughty spirit, and speak to me as thou wast wont to speak before the will of heaven set enmity between us."
Thus earnestly Odysseus pleaded, but there was no reply, and the angry spirit passed away into the gloom of Erebus.
[Footnote 1: Compare the silence of Dido, "Stories from the AEneid," p. 123.]
Odysseus still lingered, hoping yet to have speech with other souls of heroes who had once rivalled him in valour and wisdom while they dwelt in the flesh. But he was destined to see another and more awful vision. Suddenly the pall of darkness which shrouded the secrets of the nether abyss was lifted, and the whole realm of Hades was exposed to view. There he saw the place of torment, where great malefactors atone for their crime, and Minos, the infernal judge, sitting at the gates, passing sentence, and giving judgment among the shades. Within appeared the gigantic form of Tityos, stretched at full length along the ground, and two vultures sat ever at his side, tearing his liver. This was his punishment for violence offered to Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. Not far from him appeared Tantalus, plunged up to the neck in a cool stream; the water lapped against his chin, but he had not power to drink it, though he was tormented with a burning thirst. As often as he stooped to drink, the water was swallowed up, and the earth lay dry as the desert sand at his feet. And nodding boughs of trees drooped, heavy with delicious fruit, over his head; but when he put forth his hand to pluck the fruit, a furious gust of wind swept it away far beyond his reach. And yet another famous criminal he saw, Sisyphus, the most cunning and most covetous of the sons of men. He was toiling painfully up a steep mountain's side, heaving a weighty stone before him, and straining with hands and feet to push it to the summit. But every time he approached the top, the stone slipped through his hands, and thundered and smoked down the mountain's side till it reached the plain.
Other wonders and terrors might still have been revealed, but as that hardy watcher stood at his post a great tumult and commotion arose in that populous city of the dead, and the whole multitude of its ghostly denizens came rushing towards the trench, as if resolved to expel the daring intruder. Odysseus' heart failed him when he saw the air thick with hovering spectres, who glared with dreadful eyes, and filled the air with the sound of their unearthly voices. Turning his back on that place of horror he made his way slowly towards the shore, where he found his men anxiously awaiting him.
The Sirens; Scylla and Charybdis; Thrinacia
Following the same course as on his outward voyage, Odysseus put in again at the island of Circe, where his first duty was to bury the body of the young Elpenor, whose ghost he had seen in an attitude of mute reproach at the threshold of Hades. They were again received with all hospitality by Circe.
After the evening meal Circe drew Odysseus apart, and questioned him on all that he had seen and heard on that strange journey, from which he had returned, as she said, like one ransomed from death. And when he had told his story she instructed him as to the course which he had to steer on leaving the island, and warned him against the manifold perils of the voyage.
"First," said she, "thou wilt come to the rocks of the Sirens, maidens of no mortal race, who beguile the ears of all that hear them. Woe to him who draws near to listen to their song! He shall never see the faces of his wife and children again, or feel their arms about his neck, but there he shall perish, and there his bones shall rot. Therefore take heed, and when thou drawest near the place stop the ears of thy men with wax, and bid them bind thee fast with cords, that thou mayest hear the song of the Sirens. And when that seducing melody fills thine ears, thou wilt beg and implore thy comrades to set thee free, that thou mayest draw near and have speech of the Sirens. Then let them bind thee more firmly to the mast, and take to their oars, and fly the enchanted rocks.
"This peril past, thou hast the choice of two different routes. One of these will bring thee to the Wandering Isles, which stand, front to front, with steep slippery sides of rock, running sheer down to the sea. Between them lies a narrow way, which is the very gate of death. For if aught living attempts to pass between, those rocky jaws close upon it and grind it to powder. Only the doves which bear ambrosia to Father Zeus can pass that awful strait, and one of these pays toll with her life as she passes, but Zeus sends another to fill her place. And one ship sailed safely through, even the famous Argo when she bore Jason and his crew on their voyage from the land of AEetes. All others when they essayed the task perished, and were brought to naught in a whirlwind of foam and fire.
"But if thou takest the other way thou wilt come to another strait, guarded day and night by two sleepless sentinels, Scylla and Charybdis. On one side thereof towers a lofty peak, shrouded, even in the noon of summer, in clouds and thick darkness. No mortal man could climb that steep and slippery rock, not though he had twenty hands and twenty feet; for the side is smooth as polished marble, and in the midst of the cliff is a shadowy cave overlooking the track by which thou must guide thy ship, Odysseus. Deep down it goes into the heart of the mountain, so that a man in his lusty prime could not shoot an arrow from his ship to the bottom of that yawning pit In the cave dwells Scylla, and yelps without ceasing. Her voice is thin and shrill, like the cry of a hound newly littered, but she herself is a monster horrible to behold, so that neither man nor god could face her without affright. Twelve feet hath she, and six necks of prodigious length, and on each neck a fearful head, whose ravening jaws are armed with triple rows of teeth. As far as her waist she is hidden in the hollow cave, but she thrusts out her serpent necks from the abyss, and fishes in the waters for dolphins and sea-dogs and other creatures whose pasture is the sea. On every ship that passes her den she levies a tribute of six of her crew.
"On the other side of the strait thou wilt see a second rock, lying flat and low, about a bowshot from the first. There stands a great fig-tree, thick with leaves, and under it sits Charybdis, sucking down the water, and belching it up again three times a day. Beware that thou approach not when she sucks down the water, for then none could save thee from destruction, no, not Poseidon himself. Rather steer thy galley past Scylla's cave, for it is better to lose six of thy men than to lose them all.
"Next thou shalt come to the island of Thrinacia, where graze the oxen of Helios and his goodly sheep—seven herds of oxen, and as many fair flocks of sheep, and fifty in each flock and herd. They are not born, neither do they die, and two goddesses have charge of them, fair-haired nymphs, the daughters of Helios. Take heed that thou harm not the sacred beasts, that it may be well with thee, and that thou and thy company may come safely home."
Once more they were afloat, and the brave little vessel bounded gaily over the waves, her canvas bellying in the wind. For some hours they sailed on thus, and Odysseus recited to his men all that he had heard from Circe. Then suddenly the wind dropped, and the sail hung idly to the mast. Having furled and stowed the sail, they took to their oars, while the sea went down, and at last sunk to a level calm. In the distance a low-lying coast appeared, which Odysseus knew to be the island of the Sirens, Forthwith he began to make his preparations to meet the danger which lay before them. Taking a ball of wax he cut it into small pieces, and having worked each piece in his hand until it was soft and plastic he carefully stopped the ears of all his men with the wax. Then two of the crew, to whom he had already given his orders, bound him hand and foot to the mast of the vessel. All being ready, they rowed forward until they came within full view of the island. And there, in a low-lying meadow hard by the sea, sat the Sirens; lovely they were of aspect, and gracious of mien; but all around them were piled the bones of men who had fallen victims to their wicked wit, fleshless ribs, from which the skin still hung in yellow shreds, and grinning skulls, gazing with eyeless sockets at the sea.
[Footnote 1: Shakespeare, "Hamlet."]
As the ship drew near, the whole choir lifted up their voices and began to sing a sweet and piercing strain, which thrilled the very marrow of Odysseus as he listened. The winds hovered near on flagging wing, the sea lay locked in deep repose, and all nature paused with attentive ear, to catch the SONG OF THE SIRENS.
"Mighty warrior, sage renowned, Turn, O turn thy bark this way! Rest upon this holy ground, Listen to the Sirens' lay. Never yet was seaman found Passing our enchanted bay, But he paused, and left our bound Filled with wisdom from his stay. All we know, whatever befell On the tented fields of Troy, All the lore that Time can tell, All the mystic fount of joy."
It was a strain cunningly calculated to flatter a deep, subtle spirit like that of Odysseus. To know all! to read all secrets, and unravel the tangled skein of human destiny! What a bribe was this to this restless and eager mind! Then the voices of the witch-women were so liquid, and the music so lovely, that they took the very air with ravishment, and melted the hearer's soul within him. Odysseus struggled to break his bonds, and nodded to his men to come and loose him. But they, who had been warned of this very thing, rose up and bound him with fresh cords. Then they grasped their oars again, the water roared under their sturdy strokes, and soon they were out of hearing of that seductive melody.
They had not long lost sight of the Sirens' Rocks when they heard the booming of breakers, which warned them that the fearful strait between Scylla and Charybdis was close at hand. A strong current caught the galley and whirled her with appalling swiftness towards the point of danger. The water boiled and eddied around them, and the blinding spray was dashed into their faces. Then a sudden panic came upon the crew, so that they dropped their oars, and sat helpless and unnerved, expecting instant death. In this emergency, Odysseus summoned up all his courage, and strode up and down between the benches, exhorting, entreating, and calling each man by name. "Why sit ye thus," he cried, "huddled together like sheep? Row, men, row for your lives! And thou, helmsman, steer straight for the passage, lest we fall into a direr strait, and be crushed between the Wandering Rocks. We have faced a worse peril than this, when we were penned together in the Cyclops' cave; and we shall escape this time also, if only ye will keep a stout heart."
Circe had cautioned Odysseus on no account to attempt resistance when he approached the cave of Scylla; nevertheless, he put on his armour, and took his stand on the prow of the vessel, holding in each hand a lance.
So on they sped, steering close to the tall cliff under which Scylla lay hid, and gazing fearfully at the boiling whirlpool on the other side. Just as they passed, a huge column of water shot into the air, belched up from the vast maw of Charybdis, and the galley was half swamped under a fountain of falling water. When that ended, a black yawning chasm appeared, the very throat, as it seemed, of Charybdis, into which the water rushed in a roaring torrent.
Odysseus was gazing intently at this wondrous sight when he heard a sharp cry, and, looking back he saw six of his men, the stoutest of the crew, dangling high in the air, firmly clutched in the six sharklike jaws of Scylla. There they hung for a moment, like fishes just caught by the angler's hook; the next instant they were dragged into the black mouth of the cavern, calling with their last breath on their leader's name. This was the most pitiful thing that Odysseus had ever beheld, in all his long years of travel on the sea.
The last trial was now at hand, and if they could stand this final test a happy home-coming was promised to them all. By next day's dawn they ran down to the fair isle of Helios, and as they drew near they heard the lowing of oxen and the bleating of sheep. Then Odysseus remembered the warnings of Circe and Teiresias, and sought to persuade his men to sail past the island and fly from the reach of temptation. But they murmured against him, and Eurylochus, his lieutenant, gave voice to their feelings thus: "Thou man of iron, thou hast no pity on us, but thinkest that we are all as hardy and as strong as thou art. Hungry and weary as we are, wouldst thou have us turn away from this fair isle, where we could prepare a comfortable meal, and take refreshing sleep? Shall we add the horrors of night to the horrors of the sea, and confront the demons of storm that haunt the caverns of darkness? Nay, suffer us to abide here to-night, and to-morrow we will hoist sail again."
Odysseus saw by the looks of his men that it would be useless to strain his authority, and so he gave way, though with sore reluctance, only exacting a solemn oath from the whole company that they would keep their hands off the cattle of Helios. When each in turn had taken the oath they landed on the shore of a sheltered bay, and encamped by a fair spring of fresh water.
During the night it began to blow hard, and early next morning, as the weather was still stormy and the wind contrary, they hauled up their galley and bestowed her in a roomy cave, beyond the reach of wind and water. Odysseus repeated his warnings, and the crew then dispersed, to while away the time until the weather should mend.
For a whole month they had nothing but contrary gales from the south and east, and long before that time had run out they had come to the end of their store of provisions. For some time they contrived to live on the fish which they caught by angling from the rocks, though this was but poor fare for the robust appetites of those heroic days.
All this time Odysseus kept a careful watch over the movements of his men, fearing that they might be driven by hunger to break the oath which they had taken. But one morning he wandered away to a distant part of the island, that he might spend an hour in solitary prayer and meditation. Having found a secluded spot, he washed his hands, and prayed earnestly to the gods for succour: and when he had prayed, heaven so ordered it that he fell into a deep sleep.
Then the demon of mischief entered into the heart of Eurylochus, a factious knave, who had more than once thwarted the counsels of Odysseus. "Comrades," he said, "let us make an end of this misery. Death in any shape is loathly to us poor mortals, but death by hunger is the most hideous of all. Come, let us take the choicest of the herds of Helios, and feast upon them, after sacrifice to the gods. When we return to Ithaca we will build a temple to Helios, and appease him with rich offerings. And even though he choose to wreck our ship and drown us all, I would rather swallow the brine, and so make an end, than waste away by inches on a desert island."
The famishing sailors lent a ready ear to his words, and having picked out the fattest of the oxen they slaughtered them and offered sacrifice, plucking the leaves of an oak as a substitute for the barley-meal for sprinkling between the horns of the victims, and pouring libations of water instead of wine. When the vain rite was finished, they spitted slices of the meat, and roasted them over the glowing embers.
Meanwhile Odysseus had awakened from his sleep, and made his way, not without forebodings of ill, back to the camp. As he approached, the steam of roasting meat was borne to his nostrils. "Woe is me!" he cried, "the deed is done! What a price must we now pay for one hour of sleep."
Vengeance, indeed, was already prepared. Helios received prompt news of the sacrilege from one of the nymphs who had charge of his flocks and herds, and hastened to Olympus to demand speedy punishment for the transgressors, vowing that if they escaped he would leave the earth in darkness and carry the lamp of day to the nether world. Zeus promised that the retribution should be swift and complete, and Helios thereupon returned immediately to his daily round, knowing full well that the father of gods would keep his word.
When Odysseus entered the camp he rebuked his men bitterly for their impiety. But no words, and no repentance, could now repair the mischief; the cattle were slain, and in that very hour dire portents occurred, to show them the enormity of their crime. A strange moaning sound, like the lowing of kine, came from the meat on the spits, and the hides of the slaughtered beasts crawled and writhed.
In spite of these dreadful omens they continued for six days to feast upon the herds of Helios. On the seventh day the wind blew fair, and they launched their vessel and continued their voyage. The last vestige of the island had hardly been lost to view when the sky became black with clouds, and a violent squall struck the ship, snapping her mast, which fell upon the helmsman, and dashed out his brains. A moment after, a deafening peal of thunder broke overhead, and the avenging bolt of Zeus fell upon the ship, scattering her timbers, and strewing the charred carcasses of the crew upon the waves.
Odysseus alone escaped with his life from that tremendous stroke, and clinging to a spar floated all day, until he came in sight of the strait between Scylla and Charybdis. By the favour of heaven he was once more preserved from this great peril, and on the tenth day after the loss of his vessel he was thrown ashore by the waves on the island of Calypso.
Odysseus lands in Ithaca
The last farewell has been spoken, the good ship is loosed from her moorings, and Alcinous is standing on the quay, surrounded by the nobles of Phaeacia, to bid his illustrious guest god-speed. The picked crew bend to their oars, and the galley leaps forward, like a mettled steed who knows his master's voice. The setting sun is just gilding the towers of the city as they cross the harbour bar. Swift as a falcon the magic vessel skims over the swelling waters, and the toil-worn hero lays him down to rest on a soft couch prepared for him in the stern. Then a deep and deathlike sleep falls upon him, and he lies breathing gently as an infant, while the soft southern breeze plays with his dark clustering hair.
There is a certain haven in the island of Ithaca, protected by two lofty headlands, leaving a narrow passage between them. Within, the water is so still that ships lie there without moorings, safe and motionless. At the head of the haven is a long-leaved olive-tree, overshadowing a cool and pleasant cave, sacred to the "Nymphs called Naiads, of the running brooks." Inside the cave are bowls and pitchers of stone, and great stone looms, at which the Naiads weave their fine fabrics of sea-purple dye. It is a favourite haunt of the honey-bee, whose murmurs mingled with the splashing of perennial springs make drowsy music in the place. There are two gates to the cavern, one towards the north, where mortal feet may pass, and the other on the south side, which none may enter save the gods alone.
[Footnote 1: Shakespeare, "Tempest."]
The day-star was gazing on that still, glassy mere as the Phaeacians steered between the sentinel cliffs and drove their galley ashore in front of the cave. They lifted Odysseus, still sleeping, from the stern, and laid him down gently, couch and all, on the sand. Then they brought all the rich gifts, and set them down by the root of the olive-tree, out of the reach of any chance wayfarer; and having bestowed all safely they launched their ship, and started on their voyage home.
But they were destined to pay dear for their good service to the stranger. Poseidon marked their course with a jealous eye, and he went to his brother, Zeus, and thus preferred his complaint: "Behold now this man hath reached home in safety and honour, and brought the oath to naught which I sware against him, when I vowed that he should return to Ithaca in evil plight! Is my power to be defied, and my worship slighted, by these Phaeacians, who are of mine own race?"
"Thine honour is in thine own hands," answered Zeus. "Assert thy power, lift up thy hand and strike, that all men may fear to infringe thy privilege as lord of the sea."
Having thus obtained his brother's consent, Poseidon went and took his stand by the harbour mouth at Phaeacia, and as soon as the vessel drew near he smote her with his hand, and turned her with all her crew into a rock, which remains there, rooted in the sea, unto this day.
Twilight had not yielded to day when Odysseus awoke from his trancelike sleep, and gazed in bewilderment around him. His senses had not yet fully come back to him, and after his twenty years' absence he knew not where he was. All seemed strange—the winding paths, the harbour, the cliffs, and the very trees. With a cry of dismay he sprang to his feet, and cried aloud: "Good lack, what land have I come to now, and who be they that dwell there? Are they savage and rude, or gentle and hospitable to strangers?" Then his eye fell on the gifts which had been brought with him from Phaeacia. What was he to do with all this wealth? "Now this is a sorry trick which the Phaeacians have played me," he muttered again, "to carry me to a strange land, when they had promised to convey me safe to Ithaca."
So unworthily did Odysseus deem of his benefactors that he fell to counting his goods, for fear lest they should have carried off a portion of the gifts while he slept. He found the tale complete, and when he had finished counting them he wandered disconsolate along the sand, mourning for the country which he thought still far away. As he went thus, with heavy steps and downcast eyes, a shadow fell across his path, and looking up he saw a fair youth, clad and armed like a young prince, who stood before him and smiled in his face with kindly eyes. Glad to meet anyone of so friendly an aspect, Odysseus greeted him, asked for his countenance and protection, and inquired the name of the country.
"Either thou art simple," answered the youth, "or thy home is far away, if thou knowest not this land. It is a place not unknown to fame, but named with honour wherever mortal speech is heard. Rugged indeed it is, and unfit for horses and for chariots, but rich in corn and wine, and blessed by the soft rain of heaven. On its green pastures roam countless flocks and herds, and streams pour their abundance from its forest-clad hills. Therefore the name of Ithaca is spoken far and wide, and hath reached even to the distant land of Troy."
The wanderer's heart burned within him when he heard his dear native island described with such loving praise. But dissembling his joy he set his nimble wits to work, and began to spin a fine fiction for the stranger's ear. "I have heard of Ithaca," he said, "as thou sayest, even in Troy, where I fought under Idomeneus, King of Crete. And now I am an exile, flying from the vengeance of Idomeneus, whose son, Orsilochus, I slew, because he sought to deprive me of my share in the Trojan spoil. For he bore a grudge against me, because I would not pay court to his father at Troy, but made a party of my own, and fought for my own hand. For him I laid an ambush, and slew him in a secret place, under cover of night. Then I fled down to the sea, and bribed the crew of a Phoenician ship to carry me and my goods to Pylos. But the storm wind drove them out of their course, and they put in here for shelter. Sore battered and weary we landed here, having hardly escaped with our lives; and while I slept they brought my goods ashore, and sailed away for Sidon, leaving me alone with my sorrow."
Intent on his tale, Odysseus had not noticed the sudden change which had come over his hearer; for his eyes had been turned away, as he strove to spell out the features of the country, which still seemed unfamiliar. Now he looked round again, and instead of that dainty youth he saw a stately female form, tall and fair, in aspect like the mighty goddess Athene. And in truth it was the daughter of Zeus herself who answered him, smiling and touching him with a playful gesture. "Thou naughty rogue!" she said, "wilt thou never forget thy cunning shifts, wherein none can surpass thee, no, not the gods themselves? Yea, thou hast a knavish wit, and no man can equal thee in craft, as no god can rival me. Yet for all thy skill thou knewest me not for Pallas Athene, who is ever near thee in all thy trials, and made thee dear to all the Phaeacians. And now am I come to help thee hide thy goods, and weave a plot to ensnare the foes who beset thy house. Thou hast still much to endure, before thy final triumph, and thou must enter thy halls as a stranger, and suffer many things by the hands of violent men."
"It is hard, O goddess," answered Odysseus, "for a mortal man to know thee, keen though he be of wit; for thou appearest in a hundred shapes. Yet well I know that thou wast kind to me in days of old, when I fought with the Greeks at Troy. But since that time I have never seen thee, in all my wanderings and perils, save once in Phaeacia. Now tell me truly, I implore thee, what is this place where I am wandering? Thou saidst 'twas Ithaca, but in that I think thou speakest falsely, with intent to deceive me; or is this indeed my native land?"
"Ever the same Odysseus as of old," said Athene, smiling again, "cautious and wary, and hard to convince. Verily thou art a man after mine own heart, and therefore can I never leave thee or forsake thee in all thy cares. Any other man would have rushed to embrace his wife, after so many years of wandering; but thou must needs prove her and make trial of her constancy, before thou takest her to thy heart. And if thou wouldst know why I held aloof from thee so long, it was because of Poseidon, my father's brother, who ever pursued thee with his ire. Yet I knew that thou wouldst return at last, and have waited patiently for that hour, And now I will open thine eyes, that thou mayest know the land of thy birth."
As she spoke she touched his eyes, and a mist seemed to fall away from them, so that he recognised every feature of the place, the slopes of Neritus, waving with forest trees, the spreading olive-tree, the harbour, and the cavern where he had many a time sacrificed to the nymphs. Then Odysseus rejoiced in spirit, and kneeling down he kissed his native soil, and put up a prayer to the guardian deities of the place: "Greeting, lovely Naiads, maiden daughters of Zeus! Ne'er hoped I to see your faces again, Give ear unto my prayer, and if I live and prosper by the favour of Athene I will pay you rich offerings, as I was wont to do."
"Doubt not my good-will," said Athene, when he had finished; "that is assured thee. But it is time to secure these goods of thine in a safe hiding-place. After that we will advise what is next to be done."
With that she dived into the cave, closely followed by Odysseus, and showed him where he best might conceal his treasure. When all was safely bestowed, she set a great stone in the mouth of the cavern, and sat down at the foot of the olive-tree, motioning Odysseus to take his place at her side. "Now mark my words," began Athene, "thou hast a heavy task before thee, to purge thy house of the shameless crew who for three years past have held the mastery there, and sought to tempt thy wife from her loyalty to thee. All this time she has been putting them off with promises which she has no mind to fulfil."
"Tis well," answered Odysseus, "that thou hast warned me; else had I fallen in my own hall, even as Agamemnon fell. But come, contrive some cunning device, whereby I may avenge me, and be thou at my side to aid me, that my heart fail me not. Pour into me the same might and the same valour as when we sacked Priam's royal citadel; then should I fear nothing, though I fought single-handed against three hundred men."
"I will not fail thee, of that be sure," replied Athene, "when the time comes to enter on that task. They shall pay full dear for thy substance which they devour, even with their very blood and brains, which shall be shed upon the ground like water. But thou must not appear among them in this fashion. I will give thee a disguise which none can penetrate, not even Penelope herself. And when thou leavest this place, go first to the swineherd, who abides ever by his charge, faithful to thee and to thy house. Thou wilt find him sitting by the swine on their feeding ground, near Raven's Rock and the fountain Arethusa, where there is abundance of acorns and fair water. Remain there and inquire of him concerning all things, while I go to Sparta to summon Telemachus, thy son, who went to visit Menelaus to ask news of thee."
"Why didst thou permit him to go on a vain errand?" asked Odysseus. "Was it that he might suffer as I have suffered, in wandering o'er the deep, while others devour his living?"
"Be not over anxious for him," answered Athene; "I myself sent him on that quest, that he might win a good name among men. And now he sits secure in the wealthy house of Menelaus, dwelling in luxury and honour. The wooers have laid an ambush against his return; but all their malice shall be brought to naught."
It was now time for Odysseus to start on his way to the swineherd. But first he had to submit to a strange transformation. Athene touched him with a rod which she was carrying, and instantly the flesh shrivelled on his limbs, the clustering locks fell away from his head, and the keen, piercing glance of his eyes was quenched. He who a moment before had been a mighty man in his prime was now become a wrinkled, aged beggar, clad in miserable, grimy rags, with a staff, and a tattered scrip, hanging by a cord from his shoulder. For a cloak she gave him an old deer's hide, from which all the hair was gone. Thus totally disguised, he parted from the goddess, and started inland, following a rugged mountain path, while Athene went to summon Telemachus from Sparta.
Odysseus and Eumaeus
The office of swineherd was a position of great trust and importance among the patriarchal chieftains of Homeric Greece. The principal diet was the flesh of swine and oxen, and these animals formed the chief part of their wealth. Eumaeus, the chief swineherd of Odysseus, lived apart in a lonely place among the hills, where he had enclosed a wide space of ground with a stone fence defended at the top with brambles, and in front by a palisade of oak. Within the fence were twelve styes, and in each stye were fifty sows with their young. The boars had their quarters outside the enclosure, and their number had been greatly diminished by the constant demand for hog's flesh among the suitors. Still, they reached the formidable total of three hundred and fifty—a noisy and ravenous multitude.
It was no light task to provide shelter for nearly a thousand swine, with their young; yet Eumaeus had undertaken this duty during his master's long absence, without the knowledge of Laertes or Penelope. And here he was sitting, on this sunny morning, cutting up a well-tanned ox-hide to make straps for sandals, while four dogs, large and fierce as wolves, prowled near at hand. Three of his helpers were gone with the swine to their feeding ground, and the fourth had been sent to the town with a fat hog for the wooers.
Suddenly the dogs rushed forward, baying furiously, and an old man in tattered raiment appeared at the gate of the courtyard. It would have gone hard with the stranger if Eumaeus had not promptly come to the rescue, and driven the dogs off with a volley of stones. "Old man," said Eumaeus, as the dogs slunk away yelping, "it was well that I was near, or thou hadst surely been torn to pieces, and brought shame on me. I have trouble enough without that. Here I sit, fattening my master's swine for other men's tables, while he wanders, perchance, among strangers, in poverty and want. But come into my hut, and when thou hast comforted thy soul with meat and wine thou shalt tell thy tale of sorrow."
Odysseus (for he it was, though sorely disfigured) followed Eumaeus into the hut, and sat down on a shaggy goatskin, which the swineherd spread for him on a heap of brushwood. "Heaven bless thee," he said, when he was seated, "for this kindly welcome!" "I do but my duty," answered Eumaeus. "The stranger and the beggar are sacred, by law divine. 'Tis but little that I can do, who serve young and haughty masters, in the absence of my true lord, who would have rewarded me nobly, and given me a plot of ground and a wife, had he been here to see how Heaven blesses the work of my hands. But he is gone to swell the host of those who fell in Helen's cause. Cursed be she, and all her race, for she hath robbed me of the kindest master that ever man served."
In the midst of his sorrow, Eumaeus forgot not his duties as host. Going out he took two young swine, slaughtered and dressed them, and set the flesh, all smoking on the spits, before Odysseus. Then he mixed wine in a bowl of ivy wood, and sitting down opposite to his guest bade him eat and drink.
"'Tis but poor fare which I have to offer you," he said. "The best of the herd ever goes to the young lords who are wooing my mistress. Their wantonness and riot calls aloud to Heaven for vengeance. They are worse than the wildest band of robbers that ever lived by open pillage and violence. Such waste of good meat and wine was never seen before. For a wealthy man was Odysseus, and his flocks and herds still range over all the hills of Ithaca. And from every flock the fattest and the choicest is driven off day by day to feed their dainty mouths."
Odysseus fell to with keen appetite, for he had eaten nothing since he left Phaeacia. And when he had satisfied his hunger he pledged Eumaeus in a full cup, and led him on to discourse on his favourite theme—the virtues and the sorrows of his lord. "Tell me more," he said, "of thy master. Who knows but that I may have met him in my travels, for I have wandered in many lands."
"Old man," answered Eumaeus, "I see thy bent. Thou wouldst forge some glozing tale to beguile the ears of that poor stricken lady, Penelope. Many a beggar has come to her doors crammed full of lies to amuse her widowed heart; and she listens, and doubts, and weeps. And thou too, methinks, hast a like fertile fancy; for hunger and want are rare inventors. But save thy wits for a better purpose; thou canst not bring him back to life, or clothe with warm flesh his bones, long since picked clean by carrion birds or ravenous fish. He is lost for ever, and sorrow is the portion of us who remain, but especially of me, for he was dearer to me than father and mother, dearer than my native land."
"Friend," said Odysseus, "thou hast misjudged me sorely, in thinking me one of those greedy mendicants who tell lies for the sake of meat and drink. Believe me or not, I will say what is in my heart, and when my words are proved true by the event I will claim my reward. Odysseus is near at hand, and ere many days have passed he shall be seen in Ithaca, and take vengeance on those who oppress his wife and son. I swear it by this table at which I have eaten, and by the hearth of Odysseus, and by Zeus, the god of hospitality."
Eumaeus remained totally unconvinced by this solemn assertion. "Talk no more of him," he said with emotion, "it cuts me to the heart to hear his very name. Would that it might be as thou sayest!—but 'tis an idle dream. Peace be unto his ashes! And may the gods at least preserve unto us his son, Telemachus, who lately departed on a witless errand, led thereto, as I think, by some malign deity who hates the house of Odysseus. But no more of this! Tell me rather of thyself, who and whence thou art, and how thou camest to Ithaca."
Eumaeus had not extolled the fertile invention of Odysseus for nothing. Forthwith he began a wondrous tale of adventure, a little epic in itself, with some points of resemblance to his own true story. "I am a native of Crete," he began, "and the son of a wealthy man. When my father died I received but a scanty portion of his goods. Nevertheless, because of my valour and the might of my hands, I won a noble and wealthy lady for my wife. Thou wouldst not deem, perhaps, to see me now, that I was once a mighty man of war; yet even in the stubble we may judge what the wheat has been. From my youth up I lived amidst the clash of shield and spear, and loved battle and ambush, siege and foray. But I cared not for plodding industry, which gives increase unto a house, and fills it with the bright faces of children. Such I was as Heaven made me, a man of war and blood.
"Before the sons of Greece went up to Troy I was nine times chosen captain of an armed band to make war in the land of strangers, and came back laden with booty, so that my name was known and dreaded in Crete. And when the summons went round in all the coasts of Greece to follow the banner of Agamemnon, who but I was chosen by the common voice to share the command with Idomeneus? I was fain to renounce that hard and perilous service, but it might not be; so for nine years I fought at Troy, and after our return to Crete I abode but one month with my wife and children, for at the end of that time my spirit called me to Egypt. I manned nine ships, and on the fifth day the north wind brought me safe with all my company to the land of Nile.
"Then I sent out a few chosen men to explore the country, and kept myself close with the rest of my force until they should bring back their report. But my scouts forgot their duty, and carried away by lust of plunder began to harry and ravage the fields of the Egyptians. Quickly the hue and cry went round, and an armed multitude, both horse and foot, came suddenly upon us, breathing fury and vengeance. We could make no stand against such a host, and all my comrades were speedily slain or taken captive. When I saw that all was lost I threw away helmet and shield, dropped my spear, and falling on my knees before the chief captain of the Egyptians begged him to spare my life. He heard my petition, set me on his chariot, and brought me to his home. There I remained seven years and gathered much wealth; for I had found favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave me freely of their possessions.
"In the eighth year there came a certain Phoenician to Egypt, a crafty and covetous rogue, and he persuaded me to go with him to Phoenicia. So I went, and abode with him a whole year, and when the spring came round again I sailed with him to Africa, whither he was bound with a freight of merchandise. His purpose was to sell me in Africa as a slave for a great price; but Zeus willed it otherwise, for as we sailed southwards from Crete a great storm arose, and the ship went down with all her men, while I escaped by clinging to the mast, and after nine days was carried by the winds and the waves to Thesprotia, where I was kindly entreated by the king of that country.
"There I had news of Odysseus, who had touched at that coast on his voyage to Ithaca, and stayed as a guest in that same house. This I heard from the king's own lips, and he showed me all the treasure which Odysseus had left in his charge, while he himself went on a journey to Dodona, to inquire of the oracle concerning the manner of his return. Thou wouldst wonder to behold all the wealth which thy lord had gathered, an exceeding great store.
"Odysseus himself I saw not; for it chanced that a ship was sailing for Dulichium, and the king commended me to her captain, bidding him carry me thither with all care and tenderness. Now this man was a villain, and be devised evil against me; for when we left the coast of Thesprotia, he stripped me of the raiment which the king had given me, clothed me in these rags, and bound me with cords, intending to sell me as a slave. In the evening he landed in Ithaca, leaving me, bound as I was, in the ship. But I broke my bonds, and escaped by swimming to another part of the coast, where I lay all night in a thicket. In the morning they sought me with great outcry, but found me not; and after awhile they sailed away. When they were gone I arose, and was led by Heaven's hand to thy doors."
The swineherd listened attentively to the well-imagined tale, and when it was ended he said: "Hapless man, thou hast been the very sport of Destiny, and my heart is big when I think of thy wanderings and thy woes. But as touching Odysseus, that part of thy story likes me not; methinks 'tis a cunning invention to flatter my ears. Long ago I was deceived by a false report, brought hither by a wandering exile like thee, who said that he had seen Odysseus repairing his ships in Crete, and bade us look for his coming in the autumn of that year. Since then I have closed my ears against all such rumours, and therefore I say, tell me no more of him, for I cannot and will not believe but that he is dead."
Evening was now coming on, and it was time for the herdsmen to return with their charge from the feeding-ground. Presently, with huge commotion, and multitudinous din, the swine were driven home and penned in their styes. Then Eumaeus called to his helpers, and bade them bring the best of the herd to make savoury meat for his guest "Spare not," he said, "to bring the fattest and choicest of them all, for why should we be careful, when strangers devour our labour?" So they brought a hog of five years old, exceeding fat, and having slaughtered it they offered sacrifice, not forgetting a prayer for the return of Odysseus. When all rites of religion were duly paid, they roasted the flesh, and served it on wooden platters. Odysseus was honoured by Eumaeus with a choice portion of the loin.
When they had finished, night came on, dark and stormy, with furious gusts of rain and wind. Just as they were about to retire to rest, Odysseus, who seldom spoke without a purpose, turned to his kind host and said: "Eumaeus, the good wine has loosened my tongue, and moved me to tell thee a story of long ago, when these withered limbs were in their lusty prime, and my heart burned with the fire of youth. Then I was chosen with Menelaus and Odysseus to lead an ambush under the walls of Troy. With a picked company we took up our position in a marshy place, and lay down in our armour among the rushes. It was a bitter night, with snow and frost, and our shields were soon coated with ice. Now it chanced that I had left my cloak in the camp, and while the others lay warm in their thick woollen mantles, I was perishing with cold. At last I could bear it no longer, so I nudged Odysseus, who was lying next to me, with my elbow, and said to him: 'Son of Laertes, the cold is killing me. I came in my folly without a cloak, and I can never hold out until dawn in this cruel frost.' And he, ever ready of wit as he was, instantly contrived means to relieve me. Whispering to me to keep counsel he rose on his elbow, and called to the others, saying: 'Comrades, I have been warned in a dream that our numbers are too weak for the task which has been laid upon us. Will not one of you run down to the camp, and ask Agamemnon to send us further succour?'
"Thereupon one of our men arose, and flinging off his cloak ran off to carry the message to Agamemnon. And I lay wrapped in the garment, warm and safe, until the dawn. Ah! those were brave days; what changes have I seen since then!"
"I read thy meaning," said Eumaeus; "and as a reward for thy good story thou shalt sleep in comfort to-night. But to-morrow thou must make shift to wear thine own rags again, for I am but ill furnished with changes of raiment. When Telemachus returns he will supply all thy wants, and send thee whithersoever thou art minded to go."
So saying he drew a truckle-bed close to the fire, and heaped it with the skins of sheep and goats. There Odysseus lay down to rest, and Eumaeus threw over him a stout mantle of his own. All the other herdsmen slept in the hut; but Eumaeus, ever watchful for his master's property, went out, armed to the teeth, to pass the night among the swine, under the shelter of a hollow rock, which kept off the cold north wind. And Odysseus was glad when he saw that good servant so faithful to his trust.
The Return of Telemachus
While these important events were happening in Ithaca, Telemachus was living as an honoured guest in the house of Menelaus. One night, while he lay between sleeping and waking, full of anxious thought, Athene appeared to him in her own person, and addressed him thus: "Thou lingerest too long here, Telemachus. It is time for thee to return and keep an eye on thy goods, lest thou be stripped of all in thy absence. Thy mother's kinsmen are urgent with her to wed Eurymachus, the wealthiest of the wooers; and, if she yield, it may be that she will take of thy heritage to increase the house of the man who wins her. Therefore make haste and get thee home, that thou mayest be at hand to defend thy rights. Know also that the wooers are lying in wait for thee in the strait between Ithaca and Samos, with intent to slay thee; take heed then that thou shun that passage, and sail home by another way. And when thou art come to Ithaca, go straight to the dwelling of Eumaeus, and send him down to Penelope with news of thy return."
Such a message, brought by such a messenger, was not to be neglected. Telemachus at once roused Pisistratus, the son of Nestor, who was sleeping near, and declared his intention of starting at once; but when Pisistratus pointed out how displeasing such conduct would be to their princely host he consented to wait till morning.
Accordingly, when day was come, he went to Menelaus, and asked leave to depart at once. Menelaus consented, only insisting that he should remain for the morning meal. While this was preparing, the generous prince went to his treasure chamber, and returned laden with a splendid silver bowl, the work of Phoenician artists, which he had received when he visited the King of Sidon on his voyage from Troy. And Helen brought an embroidered robe, the work of her own fair hands, as a wedding gift for his future bride.
As soon as they had eaten they mounted the chariot, and drove slowly through the outer gate of the courtyard, Menelaus and Helen following on foot Here they drew up to say farewell, and Menelaus pledged them in a bowl of wine, wishing them god-speed. "And forget not," he added, "to greet Nestor for me when ye come to Pylos, for he was ever gentle to me as a father when we sojourned in the land of Troy."
"I will not forget to carry thy message," answered Telemachus; "would that I were as sure to see my father when I come to Ithaca, that I might tell him of thy noble hospitality, and show him thy gifts."
Hardly had the words been uttered when a clamour of voices was heard, and a crowd of men and women ran past, pursuing with loud cries an eagle, which had just seized a great white goose from the courtyard, and was carrying her off in his talons. Straight over the chariot he flew, and with a scream of triumph sped away to the mountains with his booty. "Consider now, my prince," said Pisistratus, "whether this omen was sent to us or to thee."
Menelaus, who was somewhat slow of wit, paused to deliberate; but before he could frame an answer, the quick brain of Helen was ready with an interpretation. "The eagle is thy father, Odysseus," she said to Telemachus, "and the meaning of the omen is that he is already in Ithaca, or close at hand, bringing death and doom to his foes."
Thus encouraged by fair portents, they took leave of their kind hosts, and started on their way to Pylos, where they arrived on the following day. As they drew near to the house of Nestor, Telemachus begged his friend to drive straight down to the sea. "For I know," he said, "that thy father will constrain me to abide with him, and will take no denial; and I wish to embark for Ithaca without further delay." Pisistratus agreed, and avoiding the house of Nestor they passed on to the place where the ship lay moored.
Having summoned his crew, Telemachus was preparing to embark, when a man armed and equipped as a traveller approached the vessel, and inquired who he was and whither he was bound. Having received an answer, he requested Telemachus to carry him to Ithaca. "My name," he said, "is Theoclymenus, and I am descended from Melampus, the famous seer, from whom I have inherited the prophetic gift. I am an exile from my native land of Argos, for I have slain a man of my own tribe, and am flying from the avenger of blood. Set me, I pray thee, on thy ship, and take me with you, for sore is my need."
"Heaven forbid," answered Telemachus, "that I should deny thee, seeing that thy very life is at stake. Make haste, and come on board"; and he made room for the stranger to sit by him in the stern of the vessel.
After a quick and prosperous voyage they sighted the coast of Ithaca, and landed on a deserted part of the coast within easy reach of the swineherd's dwelling. Here Telemachus dismissed his company, bidding them take the galley round to the harbour of Ithaca, and promising to reward them for their good service. He was just about to depart when Theoclymenus detained him and asked where he was to find shelter. Telemachus answered in some embarrassment. "'Twere no friendly act," he said, "to send thee to my house, for my mother lives apart in her own chamber and sees no man, and I fear lest thou suffer some harm from the lawless men who riot in my halls. Therefore I advise thee to go to Eurymachus, who is now the most powerful man in Ithaca, and hopes to sit in my father's seat; but perchance Zeus will send him another issue of his wooing."
Just as he spoke a rushing of wings was heard on the right, and they saw a falcon passing close at hand with a dove clutched in his talons, and tearing his prey so that the feathers fluttered down at their feet. Then Theoclymenus, who was deeply skilled in augury, drew Telemachus apart and said: "It is a manifest sign of victory to thee and to thy house." "May Heaven fulfil thy prophecy," answered Telemachus, "and if thy words prove true I will load thee with benefits, and give thee cause to bless this hour." Being now convinced that he had found a friend, he called Peiraeus, in whom he had full confidence, and bade him take Theoclymenus under his care until he himself returned to the town. Peiraeus readily undertook the charge, and this point being settled they thrust out from the shore and rowed away in the direction of the harbour, while Telemachus strode off with rapid footsteps along the path which led to the swineherd's hut.
On the evening before the arrival of Telemachus Odysseus was sitting after supper with Eumaeus and the other herdsmen, and wishing to learn the purpose of Eumaeus towards him he said: "I will no longer be a burden to thee and thy fellows. To-morrow I will go to the town and beg my living, if thou wilt send one of thy men to show me the way. Perchance also I might visit the house of Odysseus, and have speech with Penelope. And it may be that the wooers will take me into their service, for I would have thee know that by favour of Hermes I am right skilful of my hands, and no one can match me in laying a fire and cleaving dry logs, in carving and roasting meat, and in pouring of wine."
But this proposal found no favour with the honest swineherd. "Who put such a thought," he asked, "into thy mind? Serve with the wooers! They would put a speedy end to thy service, and pay thee thy wages in blood. Those who wait upon them are of a different sort from thee—gay striplings, daintily clad, with glossy hair and comely faces. Remain with us until Telemachus comes home; thou art no burden either to me or to my men."
"Be it so, then," answered Odysseus, "and may Heaven requite thee for thy goodness to a poor homeless outcast, who wanders in misery, driven by hunger from door to door! And since I am still to be thy guest, tell me something of thy master's mother, and of the father whom he left behind when he went to the wars. Do they still live, or have they gone to their rest?"
"This also thou shalt know," replied Eumaeus. "Laertes his father still lives, though sore stricken with years and sorrows; for his son's long absence and his wife's miserable end have brought him to the verge of the grave. She died long ago, and by such a death as I pray may never come to anyone who is dear to me—she, my kind mistress, who brought me up with her youngest daughter, and hardly loved me less. As long as she lived I would often go down to the house, and she ever entertained me kindly, and gave me something to carry back with me to my dwelling on the land. Full well she knew how to sweeten the lot of a thrall with pleasant words, and little acts of tenderness and love. But now I seldom leave my charge, for since the wooers brought this curse upon my master's house Penelope hides her face from us, and has no comfort for us either in word or deed."
Odysseus listened with deep interest, and when Eumaeus paused he expressed a desire to hear the story of his life. "How was it," he asked, "that already in early childhood thou wast cast on the mercy of strangers? Wast thou taken captive in war, or did robbers seize thee as thou satst watching sheep on the lonely hills, and sell thee into bondage?"
"Fill thy cup," answered Eumaeus, "we will pledge each other in a hearty draught, and then thou shalt hear my tale. The nights are long at this season, and we shall have time enough to sleep when I have done. Fate has dealt hardly with me, even as with thee; and we can find some comfort in telling over our sorrows to each other.
"There is a certain island called Syria, lying north of Ortygia, not very large or populous, but a good land, rich in pasture, with waving cornfields and goodly vineyards. There famine never comes, nor sickness, but all the people reach a good old age, and then die by the painless shafts of Artemis or of Apollo. There are two cities which divide the territory equally between them; and there was one king over both, my father, Ctesius, son of Ormenus.
"When I was still very young there came to the island a Phoenician ship, laden with trinkets for barter. Now in my father's house was a Phoenician woman, tall and fair, and skilled in needlework. She was my nurse, and I was wont to run about the town with her. One day, as she was washing clothes not far from the ship, she was recognised by a Phoenician sailor as being of his own race, and he inquired how she came to the island. She answered that she was a native of Sidon, and a rich man's daughter, stolen from her home by pirates, and sold across the seas. 'And hast thou a mind to see thy native land again?' asked the fellow. 'Thy father and mother still live and prosper'; for she had told him that her father's name was Arybas. 'I will go with you,' answered the woman, 'if ye will swear an oath to carry me home unharmed.' They all swore to do as she said, and after that she instructed them how to proceed. 'Keep close counsel,' she said, 'and let none of you seem to know me when ye meet me in the street, nor yet by the well, lest anyone tell it to my master; for if he suspects that aught is amiss it will be the ruin of us all. Lose no time in selling your wares, and when the ship is freighted for her homeward voyage let one of you come up to the house and give me a sign. I will not come empty-handed, but will bring with me vessels of gold to pay for my passage. Furthermore, I have charge of my master's child, a knowing little lad; and, if it be possible, I will bring him with me, that ye may sell him for a great price.'
"The bargain was struck, and the woman departed. Then for a whole year they remained among us and traded; at last, when they had sold out all their goods, and stowed their cargo, they sent up a man to my father's house, to warn the woman that the time was come. He brought with him a necklace of gold and amber, a thing of most rare device; and while my mother and her women were handling it, and bargaining for the price, the fellow made a sign to my nurse. When he was gone she took me by the hand and led me with her into the courtyard before the house. There she found tables set with vessels of gold, where my father had been dining with his guests. They had now gone forth to attend the council, and the place was deserted; so she caught up three goblets and hid them in her bosom. Then with one rapid glance round, to make sure that she was not observed, she hastened down to the spot where the Phoenician ship lay moored; and I, poor child, followed her, fearing nothing.
"Evening was coming on as we reached the shore, and the crew were sitting ready at their oars, only waiting for our arrival. They took us on board, rowed their galley into open water, and, a strong breeze springing up from the land, they hoisted sail, and were soon beyond the reach of pursuit. On the seventh day of the voyage the hand of vengeance fell upon the woman, and she was struck dead by an invisible blow. They flung her body to the fishes, and soon after we landed in Ithaca, where they sold me as a slave to Laertes."
"Twas a sad fate for one of thy tender years," remarked Odysseus, when Eumaeus had finished his story. "Nevertheless thou wast happy to find such a master—happier far than I, who am still a vagabond and a wanderer in my old age."
The Meeting of Telemachus and Odysseus
Early next day Eumaeus and Odysseus were preparing their morning meal, when they heard the sound of footsteps approaching the hut. The hounds pricked up their ears at the sound, and ran fawning round the new-comer, who was evidently well known to them. Odysseus called to Eumaeus, who was busy drawing wine, and said: "Some friend of thine is coming; for the dogs fawn upon him, and bark not."
Even as he spoke, a tall figure appeared in the open doorway, and his own dear son stood before him. Eumaeus sprang up amazed, and let fall the pitcher into which he had been drawing the wine. Then with a cry of joy he ran to greet his young lord, kissed his hands and his face, and wept over him. Even as a father yearns over his only son, just returned from abroad after a ten years' absence, so Eumaeus yearned over Telemachus, and hailed him as one returned from the dead. "Thou art come, Telemachus," he faltered at last, when his emotion suffered him to speak, "thou art come back again, dear as mine own life! Ne'er thought I to see thee again, after thou wast gone to Pylos. Sit thee down, that I may feast mine eyes upon thee; seldom dost thou come this way, but abidest in the house, to watch the wasteful deeds of the wooers."
Odysseus, in his character of beggar, rose respectfully from his seat, to make room for the young prince, but Telemachus motioned him to resume his place, and sat down himself on a heap of brushwood, on which the swineherd had spread a fleece. While Eumaeus was bringing bread and meat, and filling the cups with wine, Telemachus questioned him as to his mother, and learnt that no change had occurred in her relation to the wooers since he left Ithaca. Breakfast being over, Eumaeus, in answer to his inquiry, told him the story of the supposed stranger. "I have done what I could for him," he added, when he had repeated what he had heard from Odysseus. "Now I deliver him unto thee, to do with him as thou wilt; all his hopes are in thy grace."
"What can I do?" answered Telemachus, in perplexity. "Thou knowest that I am not master in my own house, and my mother is torn between two purposes: whether to wait still in patience for her lord's coming, or to choose a new husband from the noblest of the suitors. Neither she nor I can give protection to such a guest as this. Therefore I will bestow upon him a new cloak and doublet, with sandals for his feet, and arm him with a good sword, and send him whithersoever he chooses to go. Or if thou art willing, thou canst keep him here with thee, and I will send down food and raiment for him, that he may not be a burden to thee and thy men. But I will not allow him to go among the wooers, and suffer ill-treatment which I have no power to prevent."
Odysseus, who had not seen his son since he was an infant, desired to learn something more of his mind and character; and in order to draw him into further speech he asked, with an air of indignation, who the wooers were, and how it was that he submitted to their violence. "Is the public voice against thee," he asked, "or art thou at feud with thy brethren, so that they will not help thee? If I were in thy place I would fall upon them singlehanded, for it were better to die once for all than tamely to submit to such outrage."
"Behold I will tell thee all the truth," answered Telemachus. "'Tis neither by the consent of the people nor by the ill-will of my brethren, that this evil hath come upon me. But Heaven hath ordained that the honours and the burden of our house should ever rest upon one alone. Laertes, my grandsire, was an only son, and Odysseus was the sole issue of his marriage; and even so I am the only child of Odysseus. Therefore I sit helpless and alone, at the mercy of this ruffian band. But enough of this! We have no hope left, save in the justice of Heaven." Then he turned to Eumaeus, and said: "Make haste now, go down to the house, and tell Penelope that I have come back safe from Pylos. Let none else hear it, but come back hither at once, when thou hast delivered thy message, and I will wait here until thy return."
"Shall I not go to Laertes, and tell him also?" asked the swineherd. "Since the day of thy departure he has tasted neither meat nor drink, but sits alone in his sorrow, and will not be comforted."
"My mother can send a handmaid to inform him," answered Telemachus. "But as for thee, see that thou return here straightway, and lose no time."
Soon after the departure of Eumaeus, Odysseus and Telemachus were sitting before the door of the hut, each lost in his own thoughts, when their attention was attracted by the strange behaviour of the dogs. These animals, which had been lying basking in the sun, all at once started up with a stifled cry, and ran whining, with every sign of terror, to a distant corner of the courtyard. "What ails the hounds?" said Telemachus, looking up in surprise. But Odysseus was not long before he saw the cause of their alarm: standing at the outer gate was a tall female figure, of majestic countenance, and more than mortal beauty. Telemachus saw her not, but Odysseus instantly knew who she was, and, obeying a gesture of her hand, he rose from his seat and went out through the gate. She led him to a place where they were out of hearing, and then said: "It is time for thee to reveal thyself to thy son, that together ye may contrive destruction for the wooers. When the hour of reckoning comes, I shall be near to aid you." Thereupon she touched him with her wand, and in a moment he was once more the old Odysseus, still in the full vigour of his manhood, dark and sunburnt, with thick black hair and curling beard. His rags also had been replaced by fair clean raiment; and thus completely transformed he went back to the hut to reveal himself to Telemachus. Athene, having done her part, had forthwith disappeared.
Fear came upon Telemachus, and he marvelled exceedingly, when the real Odysseus appeared before him. "Who art thou," he asked, "that comest back in a moment thus wondrously transfigured? If thou be a god, as methinks thou art, let me find favour in thy sight, and we will honour thee with rich offerings of gold, and with humble prayers."
"No god am I," answered Odysseus, "but thine own dear father, for whose sake thou hast suffered so long with groanings and tears."
With that he kissed him, and giving vent to the tenderness which he had hitherto restrained he lifted up his voice and wept. But Telemachus could not yet believe that it was indeed his father whom he saw before him. "It cannot be," he said, drawing back in affright. "It is mere magic and glamour practised against me by some hostile power, to mock my sorrow. No being of flesh and blood could work such a change upon himself. A moment since thou wast an old man in sordid raiment, and now thou art like unto the sons of heaven."
"Forbear!" said Odysseus, "no more amazement! I am thy father, and no other; if not, thou shalt never see him more. Much have I suffered, and wandered far, and now in the twentieth year I am come back to my native land. This change at which thou marvellest is no work of mine, but was wrought by Athene, daughter of Zeus. The gods can deal with us as they will, both for our glory and for our shame."
Then Telemachus was convinced, and fell into his father's arms, and they wept long and sore over each other, for joy and grief are near neighbours. Presently they grew calmer, and Odysseus, in answer to his son's inquiry, told how the Phaeacians had conveyed him to Ithaca, and of all the treasures which he had brought with him.
"But now we must speak of a sterner task," said Odysseus, when his story was ended. "Tell me now the number of the wooers, that I may know how many and what manner of men they be, and thereafter contrive how we may best assail them, whether by ourselves or with others to help us."
"Father," answered Telemachus, "I knew thy high renown, as a warrior mighty in word and deed. But I fear me greatly that this task is too hard for us; how shall two men prevail against so many? Listen now and I will tell thee their number. From Dulichium are two and fifty, with six men-servants, from Same twenty-four, from Zacynthus twenty, and from Ithaca itself twelve, all proper men and tall. If we twain fall upon such a host, we may find the work of vengeance a bitter morsel, and our bane. It were better, then, to look for some other help."
"Helpers we shall find, and stout ones too," said Odysseus. "What sayest thou to Athene and her father, Zeus? Is their aid enough or shall we look for more?"
"Mighty indeed are the champions thou namest," replied Telemachus, "though throned far remote among the clouds; supreme are they in sovereignty, both on earth and in heaven."
"Thou sayest well," answered Odysseus; "and ere long the wooers shall feel their might. Now learn further what thou must do. To-morrow thou shalt go up to the house, and join the company of the wooers, and afterwards the swineherd will bring me thither in the disguise of a beggar old and miserable. If the wooers use me despitefully seek not to prevent it, but let thy heart endure, even though they beat me, or drag me by the feet through the doors. Thou mayest reprove them gently, and bid them cease from their wantonness, but they will not heed thee for their lives are forfeit already. Mark further, and take heed what I say. When the time to strike is come I will give thee a signal, and, forthwith, thou shalt remove all the weapons from the halls, and make excuse to the wooers, saying that thou art bestowing them in a safe place, out of reach of the smoke. Leave only two swords and two shields and two spears, as weapons for ourselves. But above all I charge thee to let none know of my coming—neither Laertes, nor Eumaeus, nor Penelope herself. Alone we must work, and watch the temper of the thralls, to see if there be any on our side."
Meanwhile the faithful swineherd made all haste to carry his message to Penelope. Just as he was approaching the house, he met one of the crew of Telemachus' ship coming up from the harbour on the same errand. So they went together, and while Eumaeus conveyed the tidings privately to Penelope, he who was sent from the ship delivered his report in the hearing of the whole household.
Great was the dismay of the suitors when they learnt that their foul plot had been frustrated. One by one they stole out of the house to a secret place of meeting; and when they were all assembled they began to devise what was next to be done. While they were debating they were joined by Antinous and the crew of the ship which had been lying in wait for Telemachus in the strait. Always the foremost in violent counsels, Antinous breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the young prince. "The boy only escaped us by a miracle," he said. "All day long we had sentinels on all the heights commanding the sea, and at night we patrolled the waters in our ship. Yet for all our vigilance he has slipped through our hands. But I will not be baffled thus," he added, stamping with fury. "This wretched boy must die, or we shall never accomplish our purpose. Let us make haste and slay him before he comes back to the town, or he will call a meeting of the people and proclaim to all Ithaca that we sought to slay him, and failed. Then the whole city will rise against us, and we shall have to fly for our lives."
Then another of the wooers rose up and rebuked Antinous for his bloodthirsty counsels. This man's name was Amphinomus, and he was the chief among the wooers who came from Dulichium. More than any of the other suitors he found favour with Penelope, for he was a prudent man and a just, and his voice was pleasant to her ear. "Remember," he said, "that Telemachus is of royal race; and it is a dreadful thing to shed the blood of kings. I will have no hand in such an act, without sure and manifest sign that it is the will of Zeus."
The speech of Amphinomus was received with a murmur of applause; for most of the wooers were averse to the violent measures proposed by Antinous. So they arose, and returned to the house.
Penelope had heard of their plotting from the herald, Medon, and obeying a sudden impulse she came down from her chamber, and standing in the doorway began to upbraid Antinous for his wicked purpose. "Thou hast the name of a wise and eloquent man," she said, "but thy fame is better than thy deeds. Wretch, why dost thou lay snares against the life of my son? Hast thou never heard how thy father came to this house, flying from the wrath of the Ithacans, who would have slain him, because he had joined the Taphian pirates in a raid on the Thesprotians, who were our allies? But Odysseus stood between him and their fury, and saved his life. A fair return thou art making for that good service, devouring his substance, paying court to his wife, and compassing the death of his son."
Antinous sat biting his lips, and made no answer; but Eurymachus, a subtler villain, smooth and specious, but all the more dangerous, spoke for him, and said: "Sage daughter of Icarius, fear nothing for thy son Telemachus, for while I live no man shall offer him violence. By this sword I swear it, and I care not who hears me, the man who seeks to harm him shall die by my hand. I at least have not forgotten the loving-kindness of thy lord, Odysseus, on whose knees I have often sat, and taken food and drink from his hand. Therefore I love Telemachus as a brother, and I swear to thee that none of the wooers shall do him any harm."
The Home-coming of Odysseus
When Eumaeus came back from his errand, Odysseus, who in the meantime had resumed his disguise, was helping Telemachus to prepare the evening meal. Telemachus questioned him about the ship which the wooers had sent out to waylay him on his return from Pylos, but Eumaeus had been in such haste to get back to his farm that he had not stopped to inquire about the matter. "But thus much I can tell thee," he said: "as I was crossing the hill which overlooks the town I saw a galley, bristling with spear and helm, entering the harbour; and I believe that this was the ship of which thou speakest"
"No doubt of it," answered Telemachus, with a significant glance at his father. Then they all fell to their suppers with hearty appetite, and soon afterwards retired to rest.