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Philosophia
October 25th, 2007, 08:28 AM
THE VISIT TO KING MENELAUS, WHO TELLS HIS STORY--MEANWHILE THE
SUITORS IN ITHACA PLOT AGAINST TELEMACHUS.

they reached the low lying city of Lacedaemon, where they drove
straight to the abode of Menelaus {36} [and found him in his own
house, feasting with his many clansmen in honour of the wedding
of his son, and also of his daughter, whom he was marrying to
the son of that valiant warrior Achilles. He had given his
consent and promised her to him while he was still at Troy, and
now the gods were bringing the marriage about; so he was sending
her with chariots and horses to the city of the Myrmidons over
whom Achilles' son was reigning. For his only son he had found
a bride from Sparta, {37} the daughter of Alector. This son,
Megapenthes, was born to him of a bondwoman, for heaven
vouchsafed Helen no more children after she had borne Hermione,
who was fair as golden Venus herself.

So the neighbours and kinsmen of Menelaus were feasting and
making merry in his house. There was a bard also to sing to them
and play his lyre, while two tumblers went about performing in
the midst of them when the man struck up with his tune.] {38}

Telemachus and the son of Nestor stayed their horses at the
gate, whereon Eteoneus servant to Menelaus came out, and as soon
as he saw them ran hurrying back into the house to tell his
Master. He went close up to him and said, "Menelaus, there are
some strangers come here, two men, who look like sons of Jove.
What are we to do? Shall we take their horses out, or tell them
to find friends elsewhere as they best can?"

Menelaus was very angry and said, "Eteoneus, son of Boethous,
you never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton.
Take their horses out, of course, and show the strangers in that
they may have supper; you and I have staid often enough at other
people's houses before we got back here, where heaven grant that
we may rest in peace henceforward."

So Eteoneus bustled back and bade the other servants come with
him. They took their sweating steeds from under the yoke, made
them fast to the mangers, and gave them a feed of oats and
barley mixed. Then they leaned the chariot against the end wall
of the courtyard, and led the way into the house. Telemachus and
Pisistratus were astonished when they saw it, for its splendour
was as that of the sun and moon; then, when they had admired
everything to their heart's content, they went into the bath
room and washed themselves.

When the servants had washed them and anointed them with oil,
they brought them woollen cloaks and shirts, and the two took
their seats by the side of Menelaus. A maid-servant brought them
water in a beautiful golden ewer, and poured it into a silver
basin for them to wash their hands; and she drew a clean table
beside them. An upper servant brought them bread, and offered
them many good things of what there was in the house, while the
carver fetched them plates of all manner of meats and set cups
of gold by their side.

Menelaus then greeted them saying, "Fall to, and welcome; when
you have done supper I shall ask who you are, for the lineage of
such men as you cannot have been lost. You must be descended
from a line of sceptre-bearing kings, for poor people do not
have such sons as you are."

On this he handed them {39} a piece of fat roast loin, which had
been set near him as being a prime part, and they laid their
hands on the good things that were before them; as soon as they
had had enough to eat and drink, Telemachus said to the son of
Nestor, with his head so close that no one might hear, "Look,
Pisistratus, man after my own heart, see the gleam of bronze and
gold--of amber, {40} ivory, and silver. Everything is so
splendid that it is like seeing the palace of Olympian Jove. I
am lost in admiration."

Menelaus overheard him and said, "No one, my sons, can hold his
own with Jove, for his house and everything about him is
immortal; but among mortal men--well, there may be another who
has as much wealth as I have, or there may not; but at all
events I have travelled much and have undergone much hardship,
for it was nearly eight years before I could get home with my
fleet. I went to Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Egyptians; I went
also to the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, and the Erembians, and to
Libya where the lambs have horns as soon as they are born, and
the sheep lamb down three times a year. Every one in that
country, whether master or man, has plenty of cheese, meat, and
good milk, for the ewes yield all the year round. But while I
was travelling and getting great riches among these people, my
brother was secretly and shockingly murdered through the perfidy
of his wicked wife, so that I have no pleasure in being lord of
all this wealth. Whoever your parents may be they must have told
you about all this, and of my heavy loss in the ruin {41} of a
stately mansion fully and magnificently furnished. Would that I
had only a third of what I now have so that I had stayed at
home, and all those were living who perished on the plain of
Troy, far from Argos. I often grieve, as I sit here in my house,
for one and all of them. At times I cry aloud for sorrow, but
presently I leave off again, for crying is cold comfort and one
soon tires of it. Yet grieve for these as I may, I do so for one
man more than for them all. I cannot even think of him without
loathing both food and sleep, so miserable does he make me, for
no one of all the Achaeans worked so hard or risked so much as
he did. He took nothing by it, and has left a legacy of sorrow
to myself, for he has been gone a long time, and we know not
whether he is alive or dead. His old father, his long-suffering
wife Penelope, and his son Telemachus, whom he left behind him
an infant in arms, are plunged in grief on his account."

Thus spoke Menelaus, and the heart of Telemachus yearned as he
bethought him of his father. Tears fell from his eyes as he
heard him thus mentioned, so that he held his cloak before his
face with both hands. When Menelaus saw this he doubted whether
to let him choose his own time for speaking, or to ask him at
once and find what it was all about.

While he was thus in two minds Helen came down from her high
vaulted and perfumed room, looking as lovely as Diana herself.
Adraste brought her a seat, Alcippe a soft woollen rug while
Phylo fetched her the silver work-box which Alcandra wife of
Polybus had given her. Polybus lived in Egyptian Thebes, which
is the richest city in the whole world; he gave Menelaus two
baths, both of pure silver, two tripods, and ten talents of
gold; besides all this, his wife gave Helen some beautiful
presents, to wit, a golden distaff, and a silver work box that
ran on wheels, with a gold band round the top of it. Phylo now
placed this by her side, full of fine spun yarn, and a distaff
charged with violet coloured wool was laid upon the top of it.
Then Helen took her seat, put her feet upon the footstool, and
began to question her husband. {42}

"Do we know, Menelaus," said she, "the names of these strangers
who have come to visit us? Shall I guess right or wrong?--but I
cannot help saying what I think. Never yet have I seen either
man or woman so like somebody else (indeed when I look at him I
hardly know what to think) as this young man is like Telemachus,
whom Ulysses left as a baby behind him, when you Achaeans went
to Troy with battle in your hearts, on account of my most
shameless self."

"My dear wife," replied Menelaus, "I see the likeness just as
you do. His hands and feet are just like Ulysses; so is his
hair, with the shape of his head and the expression of his eyes.
Moreover, when I was talking about Ulysses, and saying how much
he had suffered on my account, tears fell from his eyes, and he
hid his face in his mantle."

Then Pisistratus said, "Menelaus, son of Atreus, you are right
in thinking that this young man is Telemachus, but he is very
modest, and is ashamed to come here and begin opening up
discourse with one whose conversation is so divinely interesting
as your own. My father, Nestor, sent me to escort him hither,
for he wanted to know whether you could give him any counsel or
suggestion. A son has always trouble at home when his father has
gone away leaving him without supporters; and this is how
Telemachus is now placed, for his father is absent, and there is
no one among his own people to stand by him."

"Bless my heart," replied Menelaus, "then I am receiving a visit
from the son of a very dear friend, who suffered much hardship
for my sake. I had always hoped to entertain him with most
marked distinction when heaven had granted us a safe return from
beyond the seas. I should have founded a city for him in Argos,
and built him a house. I should have made him leave Ithaca with
his goods, his son, and all his people, and should have sacked
for them some one of the neighbouring cities that are subject to
me. We should thus have seen one another continually, and
nothing but death could have interrupted so close and happy an
intercourse. I suppose, however, that heaven grudged us such
great good fortune, for it has prevented the poor fellow from
ever getting home at all."

Thus did he speak, and his words set them all a weeping. Helen
wept, Telemachus wept, and so did Menelaus, nor could
Pisistratus keep his eyes from filling, when he remembered his
dear brother Antilochus whom the son of bright Dawn had killed.
Thereon he said to Menelaus,

"Sir, my father Nestor, when we used to talk about you at home,
told me you were a person of rare and excellent understanding.
If, then, it be possible, do as I would urge you. I am not fond
of crying while I am getting my supper. Morning will come in due
course, and in the forenoon I care not how much I cry for those
that are dead and gone. This is all we can do for the poor
things. We can only shave our heads for them and wring the tears
from our cheeks. I had a brother who died at Troy; he was by no
means the worst man there; you are sure to have known him--his
name was Antilochus; I never set eyes upon him myself, but they
say that he was singularly fleet of foot and in fight valiant."

"Your discretion, my friend," answered Menelaus, "is beyond your
years. It is plain you take after your father. One can soon see
when a man is son to one whom heaven has blessed both as regards
wife and offspring--and it has blessed Nestor from first to last
all his days, giving him a green old age in his own house, with
sons about him who are both well disposed and valiant. We will
put an end therefore to all this weeping, and attend to our
supper again. Let water be poured over our hands. Telemachus and
I can talk with one another fully in the morning."

On this Asphalion, one of the servants, poured water over their
hands and they laid their hands on the good things that were
before them.

Then Jove's daughter Helen bethought her of another matter. She
drugged the wine with an herb that banishes all care, sorrow,
and ill humour. Whoever drinks wine thus drugged cannot shed a
single tear all the rest of the day, not even though his father
and mother both of them drop down dead, or he sees a brother or
a son hewn in pieces before his very eyes. This drug, of such
sovereign power and virtue, had been given to Helen by Polydamna
wife of Thon, a woman of Egypt, where there grow all sorts of
herbs, some good to put into the mixing bowl and others
poisonous. Moreover, every one in the whole country is a skilled
physician, for they are of the race of Paeeon. When Helen had
put this drug in the bowl, and had told the servants to serve
the wine round, she said:

"Menelaus, son of Atreus, and you my good friends, sons of
honourable men (which is as Jove wills, for he is the giver both
of good and evil, and can do what he chooses), feast here as you
will, and listen while I tell you a tale in season. I cannot
indeed name every single one of the exploits of Ulysses, but I
can say what he did when he was before Troy, and you Achaeans
were in all sorts of difficulties. He covered himself with
wounds and bruises, dressed himself all in rags, and entered the
enemy's city looking like a menial or a beggar, and quite
different from what he did when he was among his own people. In
this disguise he entered the city of Troy, and no one said
anything to him. I alone recognised him and began to question
him, but he was too cunning for me. When, however, I had washed
and anointed him and had given him clothes, and after I had
sworn a solemn oath not to betray him to the Trojans till he had
got safely back to his own camp and to the ships, he told me all
that the Achaeans meant to do. He killed many Trojans and got
much information before he reached the Argive camp, for all
which things the Trojan women made lamentation, but for my own
part I was glad, for my heart was beginning to yearn after my
home, and I was unhappy about the wrong that Venus had done me
in taking me over there, away from my country, my girl, and my
lawful wedded husband, who is indeed by no means deficient
either in person or understanding."

Then Menelaus said, "All that you have been saying, my dear
wife, is true. I have travelled much, and have had much to do
with heroes, but I have never seen such another man as Ulysses.
What endurance too, and what courage he displayed within the
wooden horse, wherein all the bravest of the Argives were lying
in wait to bring death and destruction upon the Trojans. {43} At
that moment you came up to us; some god who wished well to the
Trojans must have set you on to it and you had Deiphobus with
you. Three times did you go all round our hiding place and pat
it; you called our chiefs each by his own name, and mimicked all
our wives--Diomed, Ulysses, and I from our seats inside heard
what a noise you made. Diomed and I could not make up our minds
whether to spring out then and there, or to answer you from
inside, but Ulysses held us all in check, so we sat quite still,
all except Anticlus, who was beginning to answer you, when
Ulysses clapped his two brawny hands over his mouth, and kept
them there. It was this that saved us all, for he muzzled
Anticlus till Minerva took you away again."

"How sad," exclaimed Telemachus, "that all this was of no avail
to save him, nor yet his own iron courage. But now, sir, be
pleased to send us all to bed, that we may lie down and enjoy
the blessed boon of sleep."

On this Helen told the maid servants to set beds in the room
that was in the gatehouse, and to make them with good red rugs,
and spread coverlets on the top of them with woollen cloaks for
the guests to wear. So the maids went out, carrying a torch, and
made the beds, to which a man-servant presently conducted the
strangers. Thus, then, did Telemachus and Pisistratus sleep
there in the forecourt, while the son of Atreus lay in an inner
room with lovely Helen by his side.

When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, Menelaus
rose and dressed himself. He bound his sandals on to his comely
feet, girded his sword about his shoulders, and left his room
looking like an immortal god. Then, taking a seat near
Telemachus he said:

"And what, Telemachus, has led you to take this long sea voyage
to Lacedaemon? Are you on public, or private business? Tell me
all about it."

"I have come, sir," replied Telemachus, "to see if you can tell
me anything about my father. I am being eaten out of house and
home; my fair estate is being wasted, and my house is full of
miscreants who keep killing great numbers of my sheep and oxen,
on the pretence of paying their addresses to my mother.
Therefore, I am suppliant at your knees if haply you may tell me
about my father's melancholy end, whether you saw it with your
own eyes, or heard it from some other traveller; for he was a
man born to trouble. Do not soften things out of any pity for
myself, but tell me in all plainness exactly what you saw. If
my brave father Ulysses ever did you loyal service either by
word or deed, when you Achaeans were harassed by the Trojans,
bear it in mind now as in my favour and tell me truly all."

Menelaus on hearing this was very much shocked. "So," he
exclaimed, "these cowards would usurp a brave man's bed? A hind
might as well lay her new born young in the lair of a lion, and
then go off to feed in the forest or in some grassy dell: the
lion when he comes back to his lair will make short work with
the pair of them--and so will Ulysses with these suitors. By
father Jove, Minerva, and Apollo, if Ulysses is still the man
that he was when he wrestled with Philomeleides in Lesbos, and
threw him so heavily that all the Achaeans cheered him--if he is
still such and were to come near these suitors, they would have
a short shrift and a sorry wedding. As regards your questions,
however, I will not prevaricate nor deceive you, but will tell
you without concealment all that the old man of the sea told me.

"I was trying to come on here, but the gods detained me in
Egypt, for my hecatombs had not given them full satisfaction,
and the gods are very strict about having their dues. Now off
Egypt, about as far as a ship can sail in a day with a good
stiff breeze behind her, there is an island called Pharos--it
has a good harbour from which vessels can get out into open sea
when they have taken in water--and here the gods becalmed me
twenty days without so much as a breath of fair wind to help me
forward. We should have run clean out of provisions and my men
would have starved, if a goddess had not taken pity upon me and
saved me in the person of Idothea, daughter to Proteus, the old
man of the sea, for she had taken a great fancy to me.

"She came to me one day when I was by myself, as I often was,
for the men used to go with their barbed hooks, all over the
island in the hope of catching a fish or two to save them from
the pangs of hunger. 'Stranger,' said she, 'it seems to me that
you like starving in this way--at any rate it does not greatly
trouble you, for you stick here day after day, without even
trying to get away though your men are dying by inches.'

"'Let me tell you,' said I, 'whichever of the goddesses you may
happen to be, that I am not staying here of my own accord, but
must have offended the gods that live in heaven. Tell me,
therefore, for the gods know everything, which of the immortals
it is that is hindering me in this way, and tell me also how I
may sail the sea so as to reach my home.'

"'Stranger,' replied she, 'I will make it all quite clear to
you. There is an old immortal who lives under the sea
hereabouts and whose name is Proteus. He is an Egyptian, and
people say he is my father; he is Neptune's head man and knows
every inch of ground all over the bottom of the sea. If you can
snare him and hold him tight, he will tell you about your
voyage, what courses you are to take, and how you are to sail
the sea so as to reach your home. He will also tell you, if you
so will, all that has been going on at your house both good and
bad, while you have been away on your long and dangerous
journey.'

"'Can you show me,' said I, 'some stratagem by means of which I
may catch this old god without his suspecting it and finding me
out? For a god is not easily caught--not by a mortal man.'

"'Stranger,' said she, 'I will make it all quite clear to you.
About the time when the sun shall have reached mid heaven, the
old man of the sea comes up from under the waves, heralded by
the West wind that furs the water over his head. As soon as he
has come up he lies down, and goes to sleep in a great sea cave,
where the seals--Halosydne's chickens as they call them--come up
also from the grey sea, and go to sleep in shoals all round him;
and a very strong and fish-like smell do they bring with them.
{44} Early to-morrow morning I will take you to this place and
will lay you in ambush. Pick out, therefore, the three best men
you have in your fleet, and I will tell you all the tricks that
the old man will play you.

"'First he will look over all his seals, and count them; then,
when he has seen them and tallied them on his five fingers, he
will go to sleep among them, as a shepherd among his sheep. The
moment you see that he is asleep seize him; put forth all your
strength and hold him fast, for he will do his very utmost to
get away from you. He will turn himself into every kind of
creature that goes upon the earth, and will become also both
fire and water; but you must hold him fast and grip him tighter
and tighter, till he begins to talk to you and comes back to
what he was when you saw him go to sleep; then you may slacken
your hold and let him go; and you can ask him which of the gods
it is that is angry with you, and what you must do to reach your
home over the seas.'

"Having so said she dived under the waves, whereon I turned back
to the place where my ships were ranged upon the shore; and my
heart was clouded with care as I went along. When I reached my
ship we got supper ready, for night was falling, and camped down
upon the beach.

"When the child of morning rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, I took
the three men on whose prowess of all kinds I could most rely,
and went along by the sea-side, praying heartily to heaven.
Meanwhile the goddess fetched me up four seal skins from the
bottom of the sea, all of them just skinned, for she meant
playing a trick upon her father. Then she dug four pits for us
to lie in, and sat down to wait till we should come up. When we
were close to her, she made us lie down in the pits one after
the other, and threw a seal skin over each of us. Our ambuscade
would have been intolerable, for the stench of the fishy seals
was most distressing {45}--who would go to bed with a sea
monster if he could help it?--but here, too, the goddess helped
us, and thought of something that gave us great relief, for she
put some ambrosia under each man's nostrils, which was so
fragrant that it killed the smell of the seals. {46}

"We waited the whole morning and made the best of it, watching
the seals come up in hundreds to bask upon the sea shore, till
at noon the old man of the sea came up too, and when he had
found his fat seals he went over them and counted them. We were
among the first he counted, and he never suspected any guile,
but laid himself down to sleep as soon as he had done counting.
Then we rushed upon him with a shout and seized him; on which he
began at once with his old tricks, and changed himself first
into a lion with a great mane; then all of a sudden he became a
dragon, a leopard, a wild boar; the next moment he was running
water, and then again directly he was a tree, but we stuck to
him and never lost hold, till at last the cunning old creature
became distressed, and said, 'Which of the gods was it, Son of
Atreus, that hatched this plot with you for snaring me and
seizing me against my will? What do you want?'

"'You know that yourself, old man,' I answered, 'you will gain
nothing by trying to put me off. It is because I have been kept
so long in this island, and see no sign of my being able to get
away. I am losing all heart; tell me, then, for you gods know
everything, which of the immortals it is that is hindering me,
and tell me also how I may sail the sea so as to reach my home?'

"Then,' he said, 'if you would finish your voyage and get home
quickly, you must offer sacrifices to Jove and to the rest of
the gods before embarking; for it is decreed that you shall not
get back to your friends, and to your own house, till you have
returned to the heaven-fed stream of Egypt, and offered holy
hecatombs to the immortal gods that reign in heaven. When you
have done this they will let you finish your voyage.'

"I was broken hearted when I heard that I must go back all that
long and terrible voyage to Egypt; {47} nevertheless, I
answered, 'I will do all, old man, that you have laid upon me;
but now tell me, and tell me true, whether all the Achaeans whom
Nestor and I left behind us when we set sail from Troy have got
home safely, or whether any one of them came to a bad end either
on board his own ship or among his friends when the days of his
fighting were done.'

"'Son of Atreus,' he answered, 'why ask me? You had better not
know what I can tell you, for your eyes will surely fill when
you have heard my story. Many of those about whom you ask are
dead and gone, but many still remain, and only two of the chief
men among the Achaeans perished during their return home. As for
what happened on the field of battle--you were there yourself. A
third Achaean leader is still at sea, alive, but hindered from
returning. Ajax was wrecked, for Neptune drove him on to the
great rocks of Gyrae; nevertheless, he let him get safe out of
the water, and in spite of all Minerva's hatred he would have
escaped death, if he had not ruined himself by boasting. He
said the gods could not drown him even though they had tried to
do so, and when Neptune heard this large talk, he seized his
trident in his two brawny hands, and split the rock of Gyrae in
two pieces. The base remained where it was, but the part on
which Ajax was sitting fell headlong into the sea and carried
Ajax with it; so he drank salt water and was drowned.

"'Your brother and his ships escaped, for Juno protected him,
but when he was just about to reach the high promontory of
Malea, he was caught by a heavy gale which carried him out to
sea again sorely against his will, and drove him to the foreland
where Thyestes used to dwell, but where Aegisthus was then
living. By and by, however, it seemed as though he was to return
safely after all, for the gods backed the wind into its old
quarter and they reached home; whereon Agamemnon kissed his
native soil, and shed tears of joy at finding himself in his own
country.

"'Now there was a watchman whom Aegisthus kept always on the
watch, and to whom he had promised two talents of gold. This man
had been looking out for a whole year to make sure that
Agamemnon did not give him the slip and prepare war; when,
therefore, this man saw Agamemnon go by, he went and told
Aegisthus, who at once began to lay a plot for him. He picked
twenty of his bravest warriors and placed them in ambuscade on
one side the cloister, while on the opposite side he prepared a
banquet. Then he sent his chariots and horsemen to Agamemnon,
and invited him to the feast, but he meant foul play. He got him
there, all unsuspicious of the doom that was awaiting him, and
killed him when the banquet was over as though he were
butchering an ox in the shambles; not one of Agamemnon's
followers was left alive, nor yet one of Aegisthus', but they
were all killed there in the cloisters.'

"Thus spoke Proteus, and I was broken hearted as I heard him. I
sat down upon the sands and wept; I felt as though I could no
longer bear to live nor look upon the light of the sun.
Presently, when I had had my fill of weeping and writhing upon
the ground, the old man of the sea said, 'Son of Atreus, do not
waste any more time in crying so bitterly; it can do no manner
of good; find your way home as fast as ever you can, for
Aegisthus may be still alive, and even though Orestes has been
beforehand with you in killing him, you may yet come in for his
funeral.'

"On this I took comfort in spite of all my sorrow, and said, 'I
know, then, about these two; tell me, therefore, about the third
man of whom you spoke; is he still alive, but at sea, and unable
to get home? or is he dead? Tell me, no matter how much it may
grieve me.'

"'The third man,' he answered, 'is Ulysses who dwells in Ithaca.
I can see him in an island sorrowing bitterly in the house of
the nymph Calypso, who is keeping him prisoner, and he cannot
reach his home for he has no ships nor sailors to take him over
the sea. As for your own end, Menelaus, you shall not die in
Argos, but the gods will take you to the Elysian plain, which is
at the ends of the world. There fair-haired Rhadamanthus reigns,
and men lead an easier life than any where else in the world,
for in Elysium there falls not rain, nor hail, nor snow, but
Oceanus breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from
the sea, and gives fresh life to all men. This will happen to
you because you have married Helen, and are Jove's son-in-law.'

"As he spoke he dived under the waves, whereon I turned back to
the ships with my companions, and my heart was clouded with care
as I went along. When we reached the ships we got supper ready,
for night was falling, and camped down upon the beach. When the
child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, we drew our ships
into the water, and put our masts and sails within them; then we
went on board ourselves, took our seats on the benches, and
smote the grey sea with our oars. I again stationed my ships in
the heaven-fed stream of Egypt, and offered hecatombs that were
full and sufficient. When I had thus appeased heaven's anger, I
raised a barrow to the memory of Agamemnon that his name might
live for ever, after which I had a quick passage home, for the
gods sent me a fair wind.

"And now for yourself--stay here some ten or twelve days longer,
and I will then speed you on your way. I will make you a noble
present of a chariot and three horses. I will also give you a
beautiful chalice that so long as you live you may think of me
whenever you make a drink-offering to the immortal gods."

"Son of Atreus," replied Telemachus, "do not press me to stay
longer; I should be contented to remain with you for another
twelve months; I find your conversation so delightful that I
should never once wish myself at home with my parents; but my
crew whom I have left at Pylos are already impatient, and you
are detaining me from them. As for any present you may be
disposed to make me, I had rather that it should be a piece of
plate. I will take no horses back with me to Ithaca, but will
leave them to adorn your own stables, for you have much flat
ground in your kingdom where lotus thrives, as also meadow-sweet
and wheat and barley, and oats with their white and spreading
ears; whereas in Ithaca we have neither open fields nor
racecourses, and the country is more fit for goats than horses,
and I like it the better for that. {48} None of our islands have
much level ground, suitable for horses, and Ithaca least of
all."

Menelaus smiled and took Telemachus's hand within his own.
"What you say," said he, "shows that you come of good family. I
both can, and will, make this exchange for you, by giving you
the finest and most precious piece of plate in all my house. It
is a mixing bowl by Vulcan's own hand, of pure silver, except
the rim, which is inlaid with gold. Phaedimus, king of the
Sidonians, gave it me in the course of a visit which I paid him
when I returned thither on my homeward journey. I will make you
a present of it."

Thus did they converse [and guests kept coming to the king's
house. They brought sheep and wine, while their wives had put up
bread for them to take with them; so they were busy cooking
their dinners in the courts]. {49}

Meanwhile the suitors were throwing discs or aiming with spears
at a mark on the levelled ground in front of Ulysses' house, and
were behaving with all their old insolence. Antinous and
Eurymachus, who were their ringleaders and much the foremost
among them all, were sitting together when Noemon son of
Phronius came up and said to Antinous,

"Have we any idea, Antinous, on what day Telemachus returns from
Pylos? He has a ship of mine, and I want it, to cross over to
Elis: I have twelve brood mares there with yearling mule foals
by their side not yet broken in, and I want to bring one of them
over here and break him."

They were astounded when they heard this, for they had made sure
that Telemachus had not gone to the city of Neleus. They
thought he was only away somewhere on the farms, and was with
the sheep, or with the swineherd; so Antinous said, "When did he
go? Tell me truly, and what young men did he take with him? Were
they freemen or his own bondsmen--for he might manage that too?
Tell me also, did you let him have the ship of your own free
will because he asked you, or did he take it without your
leave?"

"I lent it him," answered Noemon, "what else could I do when a
man of his position said he was in a difficulty, and asked me to
oblige him? I could not possibly refuse. As for those who went
with him they were the best young men we have, and I saw Mentor
go on board as captain--or some god who was exactly like him. I
cannot understand it, for I saw Mentor here myself yesterday
morning, and yet he was then setting out for Pylos."

Noemon then went back to his father's house, but Antinous and
Eurymachus were very angry. They told the others to leave off
playing, and to come and sit down along with themselves. When
they came, Antinous son of Eupeithes spoke in anger. His heart
was black with rage, and his eyes flashed fire as he said:

"Good heavens, this voyage of Telemachus is a very serious
matter; we had made sure that it would come to nothing, but the
young fellow has got away in spite of us, and with a picked crew
too. He will be giving us trouble presently; may Jove take him
before he is full grown. Find me a ship, therefore, with a crew
of twenty men, and I will lie in wait for him in the straits
between Ithaca and Samos; he will then rue the day that he set
out to try and get news of his father."

Thus did he speak, and the others applauded his saying; they
then all of them went inside the buildings.

It was not long ere Penelope came to know what the suitors were
plotting; for a man servant, Medon, overheard them from outside
the outer court as they were laying their schemes within, and
went to tell his mistress. As he crossed the threshold of her
room Penelope said: "Medon, what have the suitors sent you here
for? Is it to tell the maids to leave their master's business
and cook dinner for them? I wish they may neither woo nor dine
henceforward, neither here nor anywhere else, but let this be
the very last time, for the waste you all make of my son's
estate. Did not your fathers tell you when you were children,
how good Ulysses had been to them--never doing anything
high-handed, nor speaking harshly to anybody? Kings may say
things sometimes, and they may take a fancy to one man and
dislike another, but Ulysses never did an unjust thing by
anybody--which shows what bad hearts you have, and that there is
no such thing as gratitude left in this world."

Then Medon said, "I wish, Madam, that this were all; but they
are plotting something much more dreadful now--may heaven
frustrate their design. They are going to try and murder
Telemachus as he is coming home from Pylos and Lacedaemon, where
he has been to get news of his father."

Then Penelope's heart sank within her, and for a long time she
was speechless; her eyes filled with tears, and she could find
no utterance. At last, however, she said, "Why did my son leave
me? What business had he to go sailing off in ships that make
long voyages over the ocean like sea-horses? Does he want to die
without leaving any one behind him to keep up his name?"

"I do not know," answered Medon, "whether some god set him on to
it, or whether he went on his own impulse to see if he could
find out if his father was dead, or alive and on his way home."

Then he went downstairs again, leaving Penelope in an agony of
grief. There were plenty of seats in the house, but she had no
heart for sitting on any one of them; she could only fling
herself on the floor of her own room and cry; whereon all the
maids in the house, both old and young, gathered round her and
began to cry too, till at last in a transport of sorrow she
exclaimed,

"My dears, heaven has been pleased to try me with more
affliction than any other woman of my age and country. First I
lost my brave and lion-hearted husband, who had every good
quality under heaven, and whose name was great over all Hellas
and middle Argos, and now my darling son is at the mercy of the
winds and waves, without my having heard one word about his
leaving home. You hussies, there was not one of you would so
much as think of giving me a call out of my bed, though you all
of you very well knew when he was starting. If I had known he
meant taking this voyage, he would have had to give it up, no
matter how much he was bent upon it, or leave me a corpse behind
him--one or other. Now, however, go some of you and call old
Dolius, who was given me by my father on my marriage, and who is
my gardener. Bid him go at once and tell everything to Laertes,
who may be able to hit on some plan for enlisting public
sympathy on our side, as against those who are trying to
exterminate his own race and that of Ulysses."

Then the dear old nurse Euryclea said, "You may kill me, Madam,
or let me live on in your house, whichever you please, but I
will tell you the real truth. I knew all about it, and gave him
everything he wanted in the way of bread and wine, but he made
me take my solemn oath that I would not tell you anything for
some ten or twelve days, unless you asked or happened to hear of
his having gone, for he did not want you to spoil your beauty by
crying. And now, Madam, wash your face, change your dress, and
go upstairs with your maids to offer prayers to Minerva,
daughter of Aegis-bearing Jove, for she can save him even though
he be in the jaws of death. Do not trouble Laertes: he has
trouble enough already. Besides, I cannot think that the gods
hate the race of the son of Arceisius so much, but there will be
a son left to come up after him, and inherit both the house and
the fair fields that lie far all round it."

With these words she made her mistress leave off crying, and
dried the tears from her eyes. Penelope washed her face, changed
her dress, and went upstairs with her maids. She then put some
bruised barley into a basket and began praying to Minerva.

"Hear me," she cried, "Daughter of Aegis-bearing Jove,
unweariable. If ever Ulysses while he was here burned you fat
thigh bones of sheep or heifer, bear it in mind now as in my
favour, and save my darling son from the villainy of the
suitors."

She cried aloud as she spoke, and the goddess heard her prayer;
meanwhile the suitors were clamorous throughout the covered
cloister, and one of them said:

"The queen is preparing for her marriage with one or other of
us. Little does she dream that her son has now been doomed to
die."

This was what they said, but they did not know what was going to
happen. Then Antinous said, "Comrades, let there be no loud
talking, lest some of it get carried inside. Let us be up and
do that in silence, about which we are all of a mind."

He then chose twenty men, and they went down to their ship and
to the sea side; they drew the vessel into the water and got her
mast and sails inside her; they bound the oars to the thole-pins
with twisted thongs of leather, all in due course, and spread
the white sails aloft, while their fine servants brought them
their armour. Then they made the ship fast a little way out,
came on shore again, got their suppers, and waited till night
should fall.

But Penelope lay in her own room upstairs unable to eat or
drink, and wondering whether her brave son would escape, or be
overpowered by the wicked suitors. Like a lioness caught in the
toils with huntsmen hemming her in on every side she thought and
thought till she sank into a slumber, and lay on her bed bereft
of thought and motion.

Then Minerva bethought her of another matter, and made a vision
in the likeness of Penelope's sister Iphthime daughter of
Icarius who had married Eumelus and lived in Pherae. She told
the vision to go to the house of Ulysses, and to make Penelope
leave off crying, so it came into her room by the hole through
which the thong went for pulling the door to, and hovered over
her head saying,

"You are asleep, Penelope: the gods who live at ease will not
suffer you to weep and be so sad. Your son has done them no
wrong, so he will yet come back to you."

Penelope, who was sleeping sweetly at the gates of dreamland,
answered, "Sister, why have you come here? You do not come very
often, but I suppose that is because you live such a long way
off. Am I, then, to leave off crying and refrain from all the
sad thoughts that torture me? I, who have lost my brave and
lion-hearted husband, who had every good quality under heaven,
and whose name was great over all Hellas and middle Argos; and
now my darling son has gone off on board of a ship--a foolish
fellow who has never been used to roughing it, nor to going
about among gatherings of men. I am even more anxious about him
than about my husband; I am all in a tremble when I think of
him, lest something should happen to him, either from the people
among whom he has gone, or by sea, for he has many enemies who
are plotting against him, and are bent on killing him before he
can return home."

Then the vision said, "Take heart, and be not so much dismayed.
There is one gone with him whom many a man would be glad enough
to have stand by his side, I mean Minerva; it is she who has
compassion upon you, and who has sent me to bear you this
message."

"Then," said Penelope, "if you are a god or have been sent here
by divine commission, tell me also about that other unhappy
one--is he still alive, or is he already dead and in the house
of Hades?"

And the vision said, "I shall not tell you for certain whether
he is alive or dead, and there is no use in idle conversation."

Then it vanished through the thong-hole of the door and was
dissipated into thin air; but Penelope rose from her sleep
refreshed and comforted, so vivid had been her dream.

Meantime the suitors went on board and sailed their ways over
the sea, intent on murdering Telemachus. Now there is a rocky
islet called Asteris, of no great size, in mid channel between
Ithaca and Samos, and there is a harbour on either side of it
where a ship can lie. Here then the Achaeans placed themselves
in ambush.