View Full Version : Book XVIII

October 25th, 2007, 08:17 AM

Now there came a certain common tramp who used to go begging all
over the city of Ithaca, and was notorious as an incorrigible
glutton and drunkard. This man had no strength nor stay in him,
but he was a great hulking fellow to look at; his real name, the
one his mother gave him, was Arnaeus, but the young men of the
place called him Irus, {148} because he used to run errands for
any one who would send him. As soon as he came he began to
insult Ulysses, and to try and drive him out of his own house.

"Be off, old man," he cried, "from the doorway, or you shall be
dragged out neck and heels. Do you not see that they are all
giving me the wink, and wanting me to turn you out by force,
only I do not like to do so? Get up then, and go of yourself, or
we shall come to blows."

Ulysses frowned on him and said, "My friend, I do you no manner
of harm; people give you a great deal, but I am not jealous.
There is room enough in this doorway for the pair of us, and you
need not grudge me things that are not yours to give. You seem
to be just such another tramp as myself, but perhaps the gods
will give us better luck by and by. Do not, however, talk too
much about fighting or you will incense me, and old though I am,
I shall cover your mouth and chest with blood. I shall have more
peace tomorrow if I do, for you will not come to the house of
Ulysses any more."

Irus was very angry and answered, "You filthy glutton, you run
on trippingly like an old fish-fag. I have a good mind to lay
both hands about you, and knock your teeth out of your head like
so many boar's tusks. Get ready, therefore, and let these people
here stand by and look on. You will never be able to fight one
who is so much younger than yourself."

Thus roundly did they rate one another on the smooth pavement in
front of the doorway, {149} and when Antinous saw what was going
on he laughed heartily and said to the others, "This is the
finest sport that you ever saw; heaven never yet sent anything
like it into this house. The stranger and Irus have quarreled
and are going to fight, let us set them on to do so at once."

The suitors all came up laughing, and gathered round the two
ragged tramps. "Listen to me," said Antinous, "there are some
goats' paunches down at the fire, which we have filled with
blood and fat, and set aside for supper; he who is victorious
and proves himself to be the better man shall have his pick of
the lot; he shall be free of our table and we will not allow any
other beggar about the house at all."

The others all agreed, but Ulysses, to throw them off the scent,
said, "Sirs, an old man like myself, worn out with suffering,
cannot hold his own against a young one; but my irrepressible
belly urges me on, though I know it can only end in my getting a
drubbing. You must swear, however that none of you will give me
a foul blow to favour Irus and secure him the victory."

They swore as he told them, and when they had completed their
oath Telemachus put in a word and said, "Stranger, if you have a
mind to settle with this fellow, you need not be afraid of any
one here. Whoever strikes you will have to fight more than one.
I am host, and the other chiefs, Antinous and Eurymachus, both
of them men of understanding, are of the same mind as I am."

Every one assented, and Ulysses girded his old rags about his
loins, thus baring his stalwart thighs, his broad chest and
shoulders, and his mighty arms; but Minerva came up to him and
made his limbs even stronger still. The suitors were beyond
measure astonished, and one would turn towards his neighbour
saying, "The stranger has brought such a thigh out of his old
rags that there will soon be nothing left of Irus."

Irus began to be very uneasy as he heard them, but the servants
girded him by force, and brought him [into the open part of the
court] in such a fright that his limbs were all of a tremble.
Antinous scolded him and said, "You swaggering bully, you ought
never to have been born at all if you are afraid of such an old
broken down creature as this tramp is. I say, therefore--and it
shall surely be--if he beats you and proves himself the better
man, I shall pack you off on board ship to the mainland and send
you to king Echetus, who kills every one that comes near him. He
will cut off your nose and ears, and draw out your entrails for
the dogs to eat."

This frightened Irus still more, but they brought him into the
middle of the court, and the two men raised their hands to
fight. Then Ulysses considered whether he should let drive so
hard at him as to make an end of him then and there, or whether
he should give him a lighter blow that should only knock him
down; in the end he deemed it best to give the lighter blow for
fear the Achaeans should begin to suspect who he was. Then they
began to fight, and Irus hit Ulysses on the right shoulder; but
Ulysses gave Irus a blow on the neck under the ear that broke in
the bones of his skull, and the blood came gushing out of his
mouth; he fell groaning in the dust, gnashing his teeth and
kicking on the ground, but the suitors threw up their hands and
nearly died of laughter, as Ulysses caught hold of him by the
foot and dragged him into the outer court as far as the
gate-house. There he propped him up against the wall and put his
staff in his hands. "Sit here," said he, "and keep the dogs and
pigs off; you are a pitiful creature, and if you try to make
yourself king of the beggars any more you shall fare still

Then he threw his dirty old wallet, all tattered and torn over
his shoulder with the cord by which it hung, and went back to
sit down upon the threshold; but the suitors went within the
cloisters, laughing and saluting him, "May Jove, and all the
other gods," said they, "grant you whatever you want for having
put an end to the importunity of this insatiable tramp. We will
take him over to the mainland presently, to king Echetus, who
kills every one that comes near him."

Ulysses hailed this as of good omen, and Antinous set a great
goat's paunch before him filled with blood and fat. Amphinomus
took two loaves out of the bread-basket and brought them to him,
pledging him as he did so in a golden goblet of wine. "Good luck
to you," he said, "father stranger, you are very badly off at
present, but I hope you will have better times by and by."

To this Ulysses answered, "Amphinomus, you seem to be a man of
good understanding, as indeed you may well be, seeing whose son
you are. I have heard your father well spoken of; he is Nisus of
Dulichium, a man both brave and wealthy. They tell me you are
his son, and you appear to be a considerable person; listen,
therefore, and take heed to what I am saying. Man is the vainest
of all creatures that have their being upon earth. As long as
heaven vouchsafes him health and strength, he thinks that he
shall come to no harm hereafter, and even when the blessed gods
bring sorrow upon him, he bears it as he needs must, and makes
the best of it; for God almighty gives men their daily minds day
by day. I know all about it, for I was a rich man once, and did
much wrong in the stubbornness of my pride, and in the
confidence that my father and my brothers would support me;
therefore let a man fear God in all things always, and take the
good that heaven may see fit to send him without vain glory.
Consider the infamy of what these suitors are doing; see how
they are wasting the estate, and doing dishonour to the wife, of
one who is certain to return some day, and that, too, not long
hence. Nay, he will be here soon; may heaven send you home
quietly first that you may not meet with him in the day of his
coming, for once he is here the suitors and he will not part

With these words he made a drink-offering, and when he had drunk
he put the gold cup again into the hands of Amphinomus, who
walked away serious and bowing his head, for he foreboded evil.
But even so he did not escape destruction, for Minerva had
doomed him to fall by the hand of Telemachus. So he took his
seat again at the place from which he had come.

Then Minerva put it into the mind of Penelope to show herself to
the suitors, that she might make them still more enamoured of
her, and win still further honour from her son and husband. So
she feigned a mocking laugh and said, "Eurynome, I have changed
my mind, and have a fancy to show myself to the suitors although
I detest them. I should like also to give my son a hint that he
had better not have anything more to do with them. They speak
fairly enough but they mean mischief."

"My dear child," answered Eurynome, "all that you have said is
true, go and tell your son about it, but first wash yourself and
anoint your face. Do not go about with your cheeks all covered
with tears; it is not right that you should grieve so
incessantly; for Telemachus, whom you always prayed that you
might live to see with a beard, is already grown up."

"I know, Eurynome," replied Penelope, "that you mean well, but
do not try and persuade me to wash and to anoint myself, for
heaven robbed me of all my beauty on the day my husband sailed;
nevertheless, tell Autonoe and Hippodamia that I want them. They
must be with me when I am in the cloister; I am not going among
the men alone; it would not be proper for me to do so."

On this the old woman {150} went out of the room to bid the
maids go to their mistress. In the meantime Minerva bethought
her of another matter, and sent Penelope off into a sweet
slumber; so she lay down on her couch and her limbs became heavy
with sleep. Then the goddess shed grace and beauty over her that
all the Achaeans might admire her. She washed her face with the
ambrosial loveliness that Venus wears when she goes dancing with
the Graces; she made her taller and of a more commanding figure,
while as for her complexion it was whiter than sawn ivory. When
Minerva had done all this she went away, whereon the maids came
in from the women's room and woke Penelope with the sound of
their talking.

"What an exquisitely delicious sleep I have been having," said
she, as she passed her hands over her face, "in spite of all my
misery. I wish Diana would let me die so sweetly now at this
very moment, that I might no longer waste in despair for the
loss of my dear husband, who possessed every kind of good
quality and was the most distinguished man among the Achaeans."

With these words she came down from her upper room, not alone
but attended by two of her maidens, and when she reached the
suitors she stood by one of the bearing-posts supporting the
roof of the cloister, holding a veil before her face, and with a
staid maid servant on either side of her. As they beheld her the
suitors were so overpowered and became so desperately enamoured
of her, that each one prayed he might win her for his own bed

"Telemachus," said she, addressing her son, "I fear you are no
longer so discreet and well conducted as you used to be. When
you were younger you had a greater sense of propriety; now,
however, that you are grown up, though a stranger to look at you
would take you for the son of a well to do father as far as size
and good looks go, your conduct is by no means what it should
be. What is all this disturbance that has been going on, and how
came you to allow a stranger to be so disgracefully ill-treated?
What would have happened if he had suffered serious injury while
a suppliant in our house? Surely this would have been very
discreditable to you."

"I am not surprised, my dear mother, at your displeasure,"
replied Telemachus, "I understand all about it and know when
things are not as they should be, which I could not do when I
was younger; I cannot, however, behave with perfect propriety at
all times. First one and then another of these wicked people
here keeps driving me out of my mind, and I have no one to stand
by me. After all, however, this fight between Irus and the
stranger did not turn out as the suitors meant it to do, for the
stranger got the best of it. I wish Father Jove, Minerva, and
Apollo would break the neck of every one of these wooers of
yours, some inside the house and some out; and I wish they might
all be as limp as Irus is over yonder in the gate of the outer
court. See how he nods his head like a drunken man; he has had
such a thrashing that he cannot stand on his feet nor get back
to his home, wherever that may be, for he has no strength left
in him."

Thus did they converse. Eurymachus then came up and said, "Queen
Penelope, daughter of Icarius, if all the Achaeans in Iasian
Argos could see you at this moment, you would have still more
suitors in your house by tomorrow morning, for you are the most
admirable woman in the whole world both as regards personal
beauty and strength of understanding."

To this Penelope replied, "Eurymachus, heaven robbed me of all
my beauty whether of face or figure when the Argives set sail
for Troy and my dear husband with them. If he were to return and
look after my affairs, I should both be more respected and show
a better presence to the world. As it is, I am oppressed with
care, and with the afflictions which heaven has seen fit to heap
upon me. My husband foresaw it all, and when he was leaving home
he took my right wrist in his hand--'Wife,' he said, 'we shall
not all of us come safe home from Troy, for the Trojans fight
well both with bow and spear. They are excellent also at
fighting from chariots, and nothing decides the issue of a fight
sooner than this. I know not, therefore, whether heaven will
send me back to you, or whether I may not fall over there at
Troy. In the meantime do you look after things here. Take care
of my father and mother as at present, and even more so during
my absence, but when you see our son growing a beard, then marry
whom you will, and leave this your present home.' This is what
he said and now it is all coming true. A night will come when I
shall have to yield myself to a marriage which I detest, for
Jove has taken from me all hope of happiness. This further
grief, moreover, cuts me to the very heart. You suitors are not
wooing me after the custom of my country. When men are courting
a woman who they think will be a good wife to them and who is of
noble birth, and when they are each trying to win her for
himself, they usually bring oxen and sheep to feast the friends
of the lady, and they make her magnificent presents, instead of
eating up other people's property without paying for it."

This was what she said, and Ulysses was glad when he heard her
trying to get presents out of the suitors, and flattering them
with fair words which he knew she did not mean.

Then Antinous said, "Queen Penelope, daughter of Icarius, take
as many presents as you please from any one who will give them
to you; it is not well to refuse a present; but we will not go
about our business nor stir from where we are, till you have
married the best man among us whoever he may be."

The others applauded what Antinous had said, and each one sent
his servant to bring his present. Antinous's man returned with a
large and lovely dress most exquisitely embroidered. It had
twelve beautifully made brooch pins of pure gold with which to
fasten it. Eurymachus immediately brought her a magnificent
chain of gold and amber beads that gleamed like sunlight.
Eurydamas's two men returned with some earrings fashioned into
three brilliant pendants which glistened most beautifully; while
king Pisander son of Polyctor gave her a necklace of the rarest
workmanship, and every one else brought her a beautiful present
of some kind.

Then the queen went back to her room upstairs, and her maids
brought the presents after her. Meanwhile the suitors took to
singing and dancing, and stayed till evening came. They danced
and sang till it grew dark; they then brought in three braziers
{151} to give light, and piled them up with chopped firewood
very old and dry, and they lit torches from them, which the
maids held up turn and turn about. Then Ulysses said:

"Maids, servants of Ulysses who has so long been absent, go to
the queen inside the house; sit with her and amuse her, or spin,
and pick wool. I will hold the light for all these people. They
may stay till morning, but shall not beat me, for I can stand a
great deal."

The maids looked at one another and laughed, while pretty
Melantho began to gibe at him contemptuously. She was daughter
to Dolius, but had been brought up by Penelope, who used to give
her toys to play with, and looked after her when she was a
child; but in spite of all this she showed no consideration for
the sorrows of her mistress, and used to misconduct herself with
Eurymachus, with whom she was in love.

"Poor wretch," said she, "are you gone clean out of your mind?
Go and sleep in some smithy, or place of public gossips, instead
of chattering here. Are you not ashamed of opening your mouth
before your betters--so many of them too? Has the wine been
getting into your head, or do you always babble in this way? You
seem to have lost your wits because you beat the tramp Irus;
take care that a better man than he does not come and cudgel you
about the head till he pack you bleeding out of the house."

"Vixen," replied Ulysses, scowling at her, "I will go and tell
Telemachus what you have been saying, and he will have you torn
limb from limb."

With these words he scared the women, and they went off into the
body of the house. They trembled all over, for they thought he
would do as he said. But Ulysses took his stand near the burning
braziers, holding up torches and looking at the people--brooding
the while on things that should surely come to pass.

But Minerva would not let the suitors for one moment cease their
insolence, for she wanted Ulysses to become even more bitter
against them; she therefore set Eurymachus son of Polybus on to
gibe at him, which made the others laugh. "Listen to me," said
he, "you suitors of Queen Penelope, that I may speak even as I
am minded. It is not for nothing that this man has come to the
house of Ulysses; I believe the light has not been coming from
the torches, but from his own head--for his hair is all gone,
every bit of it."

Then turning to Ulysses he said, "Stranger, will you work as a
servant, if I send you to the wolds and see that you are well
paid? Can you build a stone fence, or plant trees? I will have
you fed all the year round, and will find you in shoes and
clothing. Will you go, then? Not you; for you have got into bad
ways, and do not want to work; you had rather fill your belly by
going round the country begging."

"Eurymachus," answered Ulysses, "if you and I were to work one
against the other in early summer when the days are at their
longest--give me a good scythe, and take another yourself, and
let us see which will last the longer or mow the stronger, from
dawn till dark when the mowing grass is about. Or if you will
plough against me, let us each take a yoke of tawny oxen,
well-mated and of great strength and endurance: turn me into a
four acre field, and see whether you or I can drive the
straighter furrow. If, again, war were to break out this day,
give me a shield, a couple of spears and a helmet fitting well
upon my temples--you would find me foremost in the fray, and
would cease your gibes about my belly. You are insolent and
cruel, and think yourself a great man because you live in a
little world, and that a bad one. If Ulysses comes to his own
again, the doors of his house are wide, but you will find them
narrow when you try to fly through them."

Eurymachus was furious at all this. He scowled at him and cried,
"You wretch, I will soon pay you out for daring to say such
things to me, and in public too. Has the wine been getting into
your head or do you always babble in this way? You seem to have
lost your wits because you beat the tramp Irus." With this he
caught hold of a footstool, but Ulysses sought protection at the
knees of Amphinomus of Dulichium, for he was afraid. The stool
hit the cupbearer on his right hand and knocked him down: the
man fell with a cry flat on his back, and his wine-jug fell
ringing to the ground. The suitors in the covered cloister were
now in an uproar, and one would turn towards his neighbour,
saying, "I wish the stranger had gone somewhere else, bad luck
to him, for all the trouble he gives us. We cannot permit such
disturbance about a beggar; if such ill counsels are to prevail
we shall have no more pleasure at our banquet."

On this Telemachus came forward and said, "Sirs, are you mad?
Can you not carry your meat and your liquor decently? Some evil
spirit has possessed you. I do not wish to drive any of you
away, but you have had your suppers, and the sooner you all go
home to bed the better."

The suitors bit their lips and marvelled at the boldness of his
speech; but Amphinomus the son of Nisus, who was son to Aretias,
said, "Do not let us take offence; it is reasonable, so let us
make no answer. Neither let us do violence to the stranger nor
to any of Ulysses' servants. Let the cupbearer go round with
the drink-offerings, that we may make them and go home to our
rest. As for the stranger, let us leave Telemachus to deal with
him, for it is to his house that he has come."

Thus did he speak, and his saying pleased them well, so Mulius
of Dulichium, servant to Amphinomus, mixed them a bowl of wine
and water and handed it round to each of them man by man,
whereon they made their drink-offerings to the blessed gods:
Then, when they had made their drink-offerings and had drunk
each one as he was minded, they took their several ways each of
them to his own abode.