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Philosophia
October 25th, 2007, 08:32 AM
THE GODS IN COUNCIL--MIVERVA'S VISIT TO ITHACA--THE CHALLENGE
FROM TELEMACHUS TO THE SUITORS.

Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and
wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities
did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and
customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea
while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home;
but do what he might he could not save his men, for they
perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of
the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever
reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, oh daughter
of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

So now all who escaped death in battle or by shipwreck had got
safely home except Ulysses, and he, though he was longing to
return to his wife and country, was detained by the goddess
Calypso, who had got him into a large cave and wanted to marry
him. But as years went by, there came a time when the gods
settled that he should go back to Ithaca; even then, however,
when he was among his own people, his troubles were not yet
over; nevertheless all the gods had now begun to pity him except
Neptune, who still persecuted him without ceasing and would not
let him get home.

Now Neptune had gone off to the Ethiopians, who are at the
world's end, and lie in two halves, the one looking West and the
other East. {1} He had gone there to accept a hecatomb of sheep
and oxen, and was enjoying himself at his festival; but the
other gods met in the house of Olympian Jove, and the sire of
gods and men spoke first. At that moment he was thinking of
Aegisthus, who had been killed by Agamemnon's son Orestes; so he
said to the other gods:

"See now, how men lay blame upon us gods for what is after all
nothing but their own folly. Look at Aegisthus; he must needs
make love to Agamemnon's wife unrighteously and then kill
Agamemnon, though he knew it would be the death of him; for I
sent Mercury to warn him not to do either of these things,
inasmuch as Orestes would be sure to take his revenge when he
grew up and wanted to return home. Mercury told him this in all
good will but he would not listen, and now he has paid for
everything in full."

Then Minerva said, "Father, son of Saturn, King of kings, it
served Aegisthus right, and so it would any one else who does as
he did; but Aegisthus is neither here nor there; it is for
Ulysses that my heart bleeds, when I think of his sufferings in
that lonely sea-girt island, far away, poor man, from all his
friends. It is an island covered with forest, in the very middle
of the sea, and a goddess lives there, daughter of the magician
Atlas, who looks after the bottom of the ocean, and carries the
great columns that keep heaven and earth asunder. This daughter
of Atlas has got hold of poor unhappy Ulysses, and keeps trying
by every kind of blandishment to make him forget his home, so
that he is tired of life, and thinks of nothing but how he may
once more see the smoke of his own chimneys. You, sir, take no
heed of this, and yet when Ulysses was before Troy did he not
propitiate you with many a burnt sacrifice? Why then should you
keep on being so angry with him?"

And Jove said, "My child, what are you talking about? How can I
forget Ulysses than whom there is no more capable man on earth,
nor more liberal in his offerings to the immortal gods that live
in heaven? Bear in mind, however, that Neptune is still furious
with Ulysses for having blinded an eye of Polyphemus king of the
Cyclopes. Polyphemus is son to Neptune by the nymph Thoosa,
daughter to the sea-king Phorcys; therefore though he will not
kill Ulysses outright, he torments him by preventing him from
getting home. Still, let us lay our heads together and see how
we can help him to return; Neptune will then be pacified, for if
we are all of a mind he can hardly stand out against us."

And Minerva said, "Father, son of Saturn, King of kings, if,
then, the gods now mean that Ulysses should get home, we should
first send Mercury to the Ogygian island to tell Calypso that we
have made up our minds and that he is to return. In the meantime
I will go to Ithaca, to put heart into Ulysses' son Telemachus;
I will embolden him to call the Achaeans in assembly, and speak
out to the suitors of his mother Penelope, who persist in eating
up any number of his sheep and oxen; I will also conduct him to
Sparta and to Pylos, to see if he can hear anything about the
return of his dear father--for this will make people speak well
of him."

So saying she bound on her glittering golden sandals,
imperishable, with which she can fly like the wind over land or
sea; she grasped the redoubtable bronze-shod spear, so stout and
sturdy and strong, wherewith she quells the ranks of heroes who
have displeased her, and down she darted from the topmost
summits of Olympus, whereon forthwith she was in Ithaca, at the
gateway of Ulysses' house, disguised as a visitor, Mentes, chief
of the Taphians, and she held a bronze spear in her hand. There
she found the lordly suitors seated on hides of the oxen which
they had killed and eaten, and playing draughts in front of the
house. Men-servants and pages were bustling about to wait upon
them, some mixing wine with water in the mixing-bowls, some
cleaning down the tables with wet sponges and laying them out
again, and some cutting up great quantities of meat.

Telemachus saw her long before any one else did. He was sitting
moodily among the suitors thinking about his brave father, and
how he would send them flying out of the house, if he were to
come to his own again and be honoured as in days gone by. Thus
brooding as he sat among them, he caught sight of Minerva and
went straight to the gate, for he was vexed that a stranger
should be kept waiting for admittance. He took her right hand
in his own, and bade her give him her spear. "Welcome," said
he, "to our house, and when you have partaken of food you shall
tell us what you have come for."

He led the way as he spoke, and Minerva followed him. When they
were within he took her spear and set it in the spear-stand
against a strong bearing-post along with the many other spears
of his unhappy father, and he conducted her to a richly
decorated seat under which he threw a cloth of damask. There was
a footstool also for her feet,{2} and he set another seat near
her for himself, away from the suitors, that she might not be
annoyed while eating by their noise and insolence, and that he
might ask her more freely about his father.

A maid servant then 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, the carver fetched them plates of all
manner of meats and set cups of gold by their side, and a
manservant brought them wine and poured it out for them.

Then the suitors came in and took their places on the benches
and seats. {3} Forthwith men servants poured water over their
hands, maids went round with the bread-baskets, pages filled the
mixing-bowls with wine and water, and they laid their hands upon
the good things that were before them. As soon as they had had
enough to eat and drink they wanted music and dancing, which are
the crowning embellishments of a banquet, so a servant brought a
lyre to Phemius, whom they compelled perforce to sing to them.
As soon as he touched his lyre and began to sing Telemachus
spoke low to Minerva, with his head close to hers that no man
might hear.

"I hope, sir," said he, "that you will not be offended with what
I am going to say. Singing comes cheap to those who do not pay
for it, and all this is done at the cost of one whose bones lie
rotting in some wilderness or grinding to powder in the surf. If
these men were to see my father come back to Ithaca they would
pray for longer legs rather than a longer purse, for money would
not serve them; but he, alas, has fallen on an ill fate, and
even when people do sometimes say that he is coming, we no
longer heed them; we shall never see him again. And now, sir,
tell me and tell me true, who you are and where you come from.
Tell me of your town and parents, what manner of ship you came
in, how your crew brought you to Ithaca, and of what nation they
declared themselves to be--for you cannot have come by land.
Tell me also truly, for I want to know, are you a stranger to
this house, or have you been here in my father's time? In the
old days we had many visitors for my father went about much
himself."

And Minerva answered, "I will tell you truly and particularly
all about it. I am Mentes, son of Anchialus, and I am King of
the Taphians. I have come here with my ship and crew, on a
voyage to men of a foreign tongue being bound for Temesa {4}
with a cargo of iron, and I shall bring back copper. As for my
ship, it lies over yonder off the open country away from the
town, in the harbour Rheithron {5} under the wooded mountain
Neritum. {6} Our fathers were friends before us, as old Laertes
will tell you, if you will go and ask him. They say, however,
that he never comes to town now, and lives by himself in the
country, faring hardly, with an old woman to look after him and
get his dinner for him, when he comes in tired from pottering
about his vineyard. They told me your father was at home again,
and that was why I came, but it seems the gods are still keeping
him back, for he is not dead yet not on the mainland. It is more
likely he is on some sea-girt island in mid ocean, or a prisoner
among savages who are detaining him against his will. I am no
prophet, and know very little about omens, but I speak as it is
borne in upon me from heaven, and assure you that he will not be
away much longer; for he is a man of such resource that even
though he were in chains of iron he would find some means of
getting home again. But tell me, and tell me true, can Ulysses
really have such a fine looking fellow for a son? You are indeed
wonderfully like him about the head and eyes, for we were close
friends before he set sail for Troy where the flower of all the
Argives went also. Since that time we have never either of us
seen the other."

"My mother," answered Telemachus, "tells me I am son to Ulysses,
but it is a wise child that knows his own father. Would that I
were son to one who had grown old upon his own estates, for,
since you ask me, there is no more ill-starred man under heaven
than he who they tell me is my father."

And Minerva said, "There is no fear of your race dying out yet,
while Penelope has such a fine son as you are. But tell me, and
tell me true, what is the meaning of all this feasting, and who
are these people? What is it all about? Have you some banquet,
or is there a wedding in the family--for no one seems to be
bringing any provisions of his own? And the guests--how
atrociously they are behaving; what riot they make over the
whole house; it is enough to disgust any respectable person who
comes near them."

"Sir," said Telemachus, "as regards your question, so long as my
father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the
gods in their displeasure have willed it otherwise, and have
hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet
hidden. I could have borne it better even though he were dead,
if he had fallen with his men before Troy, or had died with
friends around him when the days of his fighting were done; for
then the Achaeans would have built a mound over his ashes, and I
should myself have been heir to his renown; but now the
storm-winds have spirited him away we know not whither; he is
gone without leaving so much as a trace behind him, and I
inherit nothing but dismay. Nor does the matter end simply with
grief for the loss of my father; heaven has laid sorrows upon me
of yet another kind; for the chiefs from all our islands,
Dulichium, Same, and the woodland island of Zacynthus, as also
all the principal men of Ithaca itself, are eating up my house
under the pretext of paying their court to my mother, who will
neither point blank say that she will not marry, {7} nor yet
bring matters to an end; so they are making havoc of my estate,
and before long will do so also with myself."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Minerva, "then you do indeed want
Ulysses home again. Give him his helmet, shield, and a couple of
lances, and if he is the man he was when I first knew him in our
house, drinking and making merry, he would soon lay his hands
about these rascally suitors, were he to stand once more upon
his own threshold. He was then coming from Ephyra, where he had
been to beg poison for his arrows from Ilus, son of Mermerus.
Ilus feared the ever-living gods and would not give him any, but
my father let him have some, for he was very fond of him. If
Ulysses is the man he then was these suitors will have a short
shrift and a sorry wedding.

"But there! It rests with heaven to determine whether he is to
return, and take his revenge in his own house or no; I would,
however, urge you to set about trying to get rid of these
suitors at once. Take my advice, call the Achaean heroes in
assembly to-morrow morning--lay your case before them, and call
heaven to bear you witness. Bid the suitors take themselves off,
each to his own place, and if your mother's mind is set on
marrying again, let her go back to her father, who will find her
a husband and provide her with all the marriage gifts that so
dear a daughter may expect. As for yourself, let me prevail upon
you to take the best ship you can get, with a crew of twenty
men, and go in quest of your father who has so long been
missing. Some one may tell you something, or (and people often
hear things in this way) some heaven-sent message may direct
you. First go to Pylos and ask Nestor; thence go on to Sparta
and visit Menelaus, for he got home last of all the Achaeans; if
you hear that your father is alive and on his way home, you can
put up with the waste these suitors will make for yet another
twelve months. If on the other hand you hear of his death, come
home at once, celebrate his funeral rites with all due pomp,
build a barrow to his memory, and make your mother marry again.
Then, having done all this, think it well over in your mind how,
by fair means or foul, you may kill these suitors in your own
house. You are too old to plead infancy any longer; have you not
heard how people are singing Orestes' praises for having killed
his father's murderer Aegisthus? You are a fine, smart looking
fellow; show your mettle, then, and make yourself a name in
story. Now, however, I must go back to my ship and to my crew,
who will be impatient if I keep them waiting longer; think the
matter over for yourself, and remember what I have said to you."

"Sir," answered Telemachus, "it has been very kind of you to
talk to me in this way, as though I were your own son, and I
will do all you tell me; I know you want to be getting on with
your voyage, but stay a little longer till you have taken a bath
and refreshed yourself. I will then give you a present, and you
shall go on your way rejoicing; I will give you one of great
beauty and value--a keepsake such as only dear friends give to
one another."

Minerva answered, "Do not try to keep me, for I would be on my
way at once. As for any present you may be disposed to make me,
keep it till I come again, and I will take it home with me. You
shall give me a very good one, and I will give you one of no
less value in return."

With these words she flew away like a bird into the air, but she
had given Telemachus courage, and had made him think more than
ever about his father. He felt the change, wondered at it, and
knew that the stranger had been a god, so he went straight to
where the suitors were sitting.

Phemius was still singing, and his hearers sat rapt in silence
as he told the sad tale of the return from Troy, and the ills
Minerva had laid upon the Achaeans. Penelope, daughter of
Icarius, heard his song from her room upstairs, and came down by
the great staircase, not alone, but attended by two of her
handmaids. When she reached the suitors she stood by one of the
bearing posts that supported the roof of the cloisters {8} with
a staid maiden on either side of her. She held a veil, moreover,
before her face, and was weeping bitterly.

"Phemius," she cried, "you know many another feat of gods and
heroes, such as poets love to celebrate. Sing the suitors some
one of these, and let them drink their wine in silence, but
cease this sad tale, for it breaks my sorrowful heart, and
reminds me of my lost husband whom I mourn ever without ceasing,
and whose name was great over all Hellas and middle Argos." {9}

"Mother," answered Telemachus, "let the bard sing what he has a
mind to; bards do not make the ills they sing of; it is Jove,
not they, who makes them, and who sends weal or woe upon mankind
according to his own good pleasure. This fellow means no harm by
singing the ill-fated return of the Danaans, for people always
applaud the latest songs most warmly. Make up your mind to it
and bear it; Ulysses is not the only man who never came back
from Troy, but many another went down as well as he. Go, then,
within the house and busy yourself with your daily duties, your
loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants; for
speech is man's matter, and mine above all others {10}--for it
is I who am master here."

She went wondering back into the house, and laid her son's
saying in her heart. Then, going upstairs with her handmaids
into her room, she mourned her dear husband till Minerva shed
sweet sleep over her eyes. But the suitors were clamorous
throughout the covered cloisters {11}, and prayed each one that
he might be her bed fellow.

Then Telemachus spoke, "Shameless," he cried, "and insolent
suitors, let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no
brawling, for it is a rare thing to hear a man with such a
divine voice as Phemius has; but in the morning meet me in full
assembly that I may give you formal notice to depart, and feast
at one another's houses, turn and turn about, at your own cost.
If on the other hand you choose to persist in spunging upon one
man, heaven help me, but Jove shall reckon with you in full, and
when you fall in my father's house there shall be no man to
avenge you."

The suitors bit their lips as they heard him, and marvelled at
the boldness of his speech. Then, Antinous, son of Eupeithes,
said, "The gods seem to have given you lessons in bluster and
tall talking; may Jove never grant you to be chief in Ithaca as
your father was before you."

Telemachus answered, "Antinous, do not chide with me, but, god
willing, I will be chief too if I can. Is this the worst fate
you can think of for me? It is no bad thing to be a chief, for
it brings both riches and honour. Still, now that Ulysses is
dead there are many great men in Ithaca both old and young, and
some other may take the lead among them; nevertheless I will be
chief in my own house, and will rule those whom Ulysses has won
for me."

Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, answered, "It rests with heaven
to decide who shall be chief among us, but you shall be master
in your own house and over your own possessions; no one while
there is a man in Ithaca shall do you violence nor rob you. And
now, my good fellow, I want to know about this stranger. What
country does he come from? Of what family is he, and where is
his estate? Has he brought you news about the return of your
father, or was he on business of his own? He seemed a well to do
man, but he hurried off so suddenly that he was gone in a moment
before we could get to know him."

"My father is dead and gone," answered Telemachus, "and even if
some rumour reaches me I put no more faith in it now. My mother
does indeed sometimes send for a soothsayer and question him,
but I give his prophecyings no heed. As for the stranger, he was
Mentes, son of Anchialus, chief of the Taphians, an old friend
of my father's." But in his heart he knew that it had been the
goddess.

The suitors then returned to their singing and dancing until the
evening; but when night fell upon their pleasuring they went
home to bed each in his own abode. {12} Telemachus's room was
high up in a tower {13} that looked on to the outer court;
hither, then, he hied, brooding and full of thought. A good old
woman, Euryclea, daughter of Ops, the son of Pisenor, went
before him with a couple of blazing torches. Laertes had bought
her with his own money when she was quite young; he gave the
worth of twenty oxen for her, and shewed as much respect to her
in his household as he did to his own wedded wife, but he did
not take her to his bed for he feared his wife's resentment.
{14} She it was who now lighted Telemachus to his room, and she
loved him better than any of the other women in the house did,
for she had nursed him when he was a baby. He opened the door of
his bed room and sat down upon the bed; as he took off his shirt
{15} he gave it to the good old woman, who folded it tidily up,
and hung it for him over a peg by his bed side, after which she
went out, pulled the door to by a silver catch, and drew the
bolt home by means of the strap. {16} But Telemachus as he lay
covered with a woollen fleece kept thinking all night through of
his intended voyage and of the counsel that Minerva had given
him.