CHAPTER I. THE COUNSEL OF ATHENE
[Footnote: counsel, advice.] [Footnote: A-the'-ne.]
When the great city of Troy had been taken, all the chiefs who had fought against it set sail for their homes. But there was wrath in heaven against them, so that they did not find a safe and happy return. For one was shipwrecked, and another was shamefully slain by his false wife in his palace, and others found all things at home troubled and changed, and were driven to seek new dwellings elsewhere; and some were driven far and wide about the world before they saw their native land again. Of all, the wise Ulysses [Footnote: U-lys'-ses.] was he that wandered farthest and suffered most, for when ten years had well-nigh passed, he was still far away from Ithaca [Footnote: Ith'-a-ca.], his kingdom.
The gods were gathered in council in the hall of Olympus [Footnote: O- lym'-pus.], all but Poseidon, [Footnote: Po-sei'-don.] the god of the sea, for he had gone to feast with the Ethiopians. Now Poseidon was he who most hated Ulysses, and kept him from his home.
Then spake Athene among the immortal gods: “My heart is rent for Ulysses. Sore affliction doth he suffer in an island of the sea, where the daughter of Atlas keepeth him, seeking to make him forget his native land. And he yearns to see even the smoke rising up from the land of his birth, and is fain [Footnote: is fain, wishes to] to die. And thou regardest it not at all. Did he not offer thee many sacrifices in the land of Troy? Wherefore hast thou such wrath against him?” To her Zeus, the father of the gods, made reply: “What is this that thou sayest, my daughter? It is Poseidon that hath great wrath against Ulysses, because he blinded his son Polyphemus [Footnote: Pol-y-phe'-mus.] the Cyclops. [Footnote: Cy'-clops.] But come, let us take counsel together that he may return to his home, for Poseidon will not be able to contend against us all.”
Then said Athene: “If this be thy will, then let us speed Hermes [Footnote: Her'-mes.] the messenger to the island of Calypso [Footnote: Ca-lyp'-so.], and let him declare to the goddess our purpose that Ulysses shall return to his home. And I will go to Ithaca, and stir up the spirit of his son Telemachus [Footnote: Te-lem'-a-chus.], that first he speak out his mind to the suitors of his mother who waste his substance, [Footnote: substance, property.] and next that he go to Sparta and to Pylos [Footnote: Py'-los.], seeking tidings of his father. So shall the youth win good report among men.”
So she went to Ithaca, and there she took upon her the form of Mentes [Footnote: Men'-tes.], who was chief of the Taphians. [Footnote: Ta'-phi-ans.]
Now there were gathered in the house of Ulysses many princes from the islands, suitors of the Queen Penelope [Footnote: Pe-nel'-o- pe.], for they said that Ulysses was dead, and that she should choose another husband. These were gathered together, and were sitting playing draughts [Footnote: draughts, checkers.] and feasting. And Telemachus sat among them, vexed at heart, for they wasted his substance; neither was he master in his house. But when he saw the guest at the door, he rose from his place, and welcomed him, and made him sit down, and commanded that they should give him food and wine. And when he had ended his meal, Telemachus asked him his business.
Thereupon the false Mentes said: “My name is Mentes, and I am King of the Taphians, and I am sailing to Cyprus for copper, taking iron in exchange. Now I have been long time the friend of this house, of thy father and thy father's father, and I came trusting to see thy father, for they told me that he was here. But now I see that some god hath hindered his return, for that he is yet alive I know full well. But tell me, who are these that I see? Is this the gathering of a clan, or a wedding feast?”
Telemachus made answer: “O sir, while my father was yet alive, our house was rich and honoured; but now that he is gone, things are not well with me. I would not grieve so much had he fallen in battle before Troy; for then the Greeks would have builded a great burial mound for him, and he would thus have won great renown, even for his son. But now the storms of the sea have swept him away, and I am left in sore distress. For these whom thou seest are the princes of the islands that come here to woo my mother. She neither refuseth nor accepteth; and meanwhile they sit here, and waste my substance.”
Then said the false Mentes: “Now may the gods help thee! Thou art indeed in sore need of Ulysses. But now hearken to my counsel. First call an assembly of the people. Bid the suitors go back, each man to his home; and as for thy mother, if she be moved to wed, let her return to her father's house, that her kinsfolk may furnish a wedding feast, and prepare gifts such as a well-beloved daughter should have. Afterwards do thou fit up a ship with twenty oars, and go, inquire concerning thy father; perhaps some man may give thee tidings of him; or, may be, thou wilt hear a voice from Zeus concerning him. Go to Pylos first, and afterwards to Sparta, where Menelaus [Footnote: Me-ne-la'-us.] dwelleth, who of all the Greeks came back the last to his home. If thou shouldest hear that he is dead, then come back hither, and raise a mound for him, and give thy mother to a husband. And when thou hast made an end of all these things, then plan how thou mayest slay the suitors by force or craft, for it is time for thee to have the thoughts of a man.”
Then said Telemachus: “Thou speakest these things out of a friendly heart, as a father might speak to his son, nor will I ever forget them. But now, I pray thee, abide here for a space, that I may give thee a goodly gift, such as friends give to friends, to be an heirloom in thy house.”
But the false Mentes said, “Keep me no longer, for I am eager to depart; give me thy gift when I shall return.”
So the goddess departed; like to an eagle of the sea was she as she flew. And Telemachus knew her to be a goddess as she went.
Meanwhile Phemius [Footnote: Phe'-mi-us.] the minstrel sang to the suitors, and his song was of the unhappy return of the Greeks from Troy.
When Penelope heard the song, she came down from the upper chamber where she sat, and two handmaids bare her company. And when she came to where the suitors sat, she stood by the gate of the hall, holding her shining veil before her face. Then spake she to the minstrel, weeping, and said: “Phemius, thou knowest many songs concerning the deeds of gods and men; sing, therefore, one of these, and let the guests drink the wine in silence. But stay this pitiful strain, for it breaketh my heart to hear it. Surely, of all women I am the most unhappy, so famous was the husband for whom I mourn.”
But Telemachus made reply: “Why dost thou grudge the minstrel, my mother, to make us glad in such fashion as his spirit biddeth him? It is no blame to him that he singeth of the unhappy return of the Greeks, for men most prize the song that soundeth newest in their ears. Endure, therefore, to listen, for not Ulysses only missed his return, but many a famous chief besides. Go, then, to thy chamber, and mind thy household affairs, and bid thy handmaids ply their tasks. Speech belongeth unto men, and chiefly to me that am the master in this house.”
Then went she back to her chamber, for she was amazed at her son, with such authority did he speak. Then she bewailed her lord, till Athene sent down sleep upon her eyes.
When she was gone, Telemachus spake to the suitors, saying: “Let us now feast and be merry, and let there be no brawling among us. It is a good thing to listen to a minstrel that hath a voice as the voice of a god. But in the morning let us go to the assembly, that I may declare my purpose, to wit, that ye leave this hall, and eat your own substance. But if ye deem it a better thing that ye should waste another man's goods, and make no recompense, then work your will. But certainly Zeus shall repay you.”
So he spake, and they all marvelled that he used such boldness. And Antinous [Footnote: An-ti'-no-us.] answered: “Surely, Telemachus, it is by the bidding of the gods that thou speakest so boldly. Therefore I pray that Zeus may never make thee King in Ithaca.”
Then said Telemachus: “It is no ill thing to be a king, for his house groweth rich, and he himself is honoured. But there are others in Ithaca, young and old, who may have the kingship, now that Ulysses is dead. Yet know that I will be lord of my own house and of the slaves which Ulysses won for himself with his own spear.”
Thereupon spake Eurymachus [Footnote: Eu-rym'-a-chus.], saying: “It is with the gods to say who shall be King in Ithaca; but no man can deny that thou shouldest keep thine own goods and be lord in thine own house. Tell me, who is this stranger that came but just now to thy house? Did he bring tidings of thy father? Or came he on some matter of his own? In strange fashion did he depart, nor did he tarry that we might know him.”
Telemachus made answer: “Verily, Eurymachus, the day of my father's return hath gone by forever. As for this stranger, he said that he was Mentes, King of the Taphians.”
So spake Telemachus, but in his heart he knew that the stranger was Athene. Then the suitors turned them to the dance and to the song, making merry till the darkness fell. Then went they each to his own house to sleep.
But Telemachus went to his chamber, pondering many things in his heart. And Eurycleia, [Footnote: Eu-ry-clei'-a] who had nursed him when he was little, went with him, bearing torches in her hands. He opened the door of the chamber, and took off his doublet, and put it in the wise woman's hands. She folded it, and smoothed it, and hung it on a pin, and went forth from the room, and pulled to the door, and made it fast. And all the night Telemachus thought in his heart of the journey which Athene had showed him.