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CHAPTER II. THE ASSEMBLY

When the morning came, Telemachus bade the heralds call the people to the assembly. So the heralds called them, and they came in haste. And when they were gathered together, he went his way to the place of meeting, holding in his hand a spear, and two dogs followed him. Then did Athene shed a marvellous grace upon him, so that all men wondered at him, as he sat him down in his father's place.

First spake Aegyptus [Footnote: AE-gyp'-tus.], who was bowed with many years, and was very wise. Four sons he had. One had gone with Ulysses to Troy, and one was among the suitors of the Queen, and two abode with their father in the field. He said: “Hearken to me, men of Ithaca! Never hath an assembly been called in Ithaca since Ulysses departed. Who now hath called us together? If it be Telemachus, what doth he want? Hath he heard any tidings of the coming back of the host? He, methinks, is a true man. May Zeus be with him and grant him his heart's desire!”

So spake the old man, and Telemachus was glad at his speech. Then he rose up and said:—

“I have great trouble in my heart, men of Ithaca, for first my father, whom ye all loved, is dead; and next the princes of the islands come hither, making suit to my mother, but she waits ever for the return of her husband. And they devour all our substance; nor is Ulysses here to defend it, and I, in truth, am not able. And this is a grievous wrong, and not to be borne.”

Then he dashed his sceptre on the ground, and sat down weeping. And Antinous, who was one of the suitors, rose up and said:—

“Nay, Telemachus, blame not us, but blame thy mother, who indeed is crafty above all women. For now this is the fourth year that we have come suing for her hand, and she has cheated us with hopes. Hear now this that she did. She set up a great web for weaving, and said to us: 'Listen, ye that are my suitors. Hasten not my marriage till I finish this web to be a burial cloth for Laertes [Footnote: La-er'-tes.], the father of Ulysses, for indeed it would be foul shame if he who has won great possessions should lack this honour.' So she spake, and for three years she cheated us, for what she wove in the day she unravelled at night. But when the fourth year was come, one of her maidens told us of the matter, and we came upon her by night and found her unravelling what she had woven in the day. Then did she finish it, much against her will. Send away, therefore, thy mother, and bid her marry whom she will. But till this be done we will not depart.”

Then answered Telemachus: “How can I send away against her will her who bare me and brought me up? I cannot do this thing.”

So he spake; and there came two eagles, which flew abreast till they came over the assembly. Then did they wheel in the air, and shook out from each many feathers, and tare each other, and so departed.

Then cried Alitherses [Footnote: A-li-ther'-ses.], the prophet: “Beware, ye suitors, for great trouble is coming to you, and to others also. And as for Ulysses, I said when he went to Troy that he should return after twenty years; and so it shall be.”

And when the suitors would not listen, Telemachus said: “Give me a ship and twenty rowers, that I may go to Pylos and to Sparta; perhaps I may hear news of my father. And if I hear that he is dead, then will I come back hither and raise up a mound for him and give my mother to a husband.”

Having thus spoken, he sat down, and Mentor [Footnote: Men'-tor.], whom Ulysses, when he departed, set over his household, rose up in the midst, and spake, saying: “Now henceforth never let any king be kind and gentle in his heart or minded to work righteousness. Let him rather be a hard man and unrighteous. For now no man of all the people whose lord he was remembereth Ulysses. Yet he was gentle as a father. If the suitors are minded to do evil deeds, I hinder them not. They do them at the peril of their own heads. It is with the people that I am wroth, to see how they sit speechless, and cry not shame upon the suitors; and yet they are many in number, and the suitors are few.”

Then Leocritus [Footnote: Le-oc'-ri-tus.], who was one of the suitors, answered: “Surely thy wits wander, O Mentor, that thou biddest the people put us down. Of a truth, if Ulysses himself should come back, and should seek to drive the suitors from the hall, it would fare ill with him. An evil fate would he meet, if he fought with them. As for the people, let them go to their own houses. Let Mentor speed the young man's voyage, for he is a friend of his house. Yet I doubt whether he will ever accomplish it.”

So he spake, and the assembly was dismissed.

But Telemachus went apart to the shore of the sea, and he washed his hands in the water of the sea, and prayed to Athene, saying: “Hear me, thou who didst come yesterday to the house, and bid me take a ship, and sail across the sea, seeking tidings of my father! The people delay my purpose, and the suitors stir them up in the wickedness of their hearts.”

And while he prayed, Athene stood by him, like to Mentor in shape and speech. She spake, saying: “Thou art not without spirit, and art like to be a true son of Ulysses and Penelope. Therefore, I have good hopes that this journey of which thou speakest will not be in vain. But as for the suitors, think not of them, for they talk folly, and know not of the doom that is even now close upon them. Go, therefore, and talk with the suitors as before, and get ready food for a journey, wine and meal. And I will gather men who will offer themselves freely for the journey, and I will find a ship also, the best in Ithaca.”

Then Telemachus returned to the house, and the suitors were flaying goats and singeing swine in the court. And Antinous caught him by the hand and said, “Eat and drink, Telemachus, and we will find a ship and rowers for thee, that thou mayest go where thou wilt, to inquire for thy father.”

But Telemachus answered: “Think ye that I will eat and drink with you, who so shamefully waste my substance? Be sure of this, that I will seek vengeance against you, and if ye deny me a ship, I will even go in another man's.”

So he spake, and dragged his hand from the hand of Antinous.

And another of the suitors said, “Now will Telemachus go and seek help against us from Pylos or from Sparta, or may be he will put poison in our cups, and so destroy us.”

And another said: “Perchance he also will perish, as his father has perished. Then we should divide all his substance, but the house we should give to his mother and to her husband.”

So they spake, mocking him. But he went to the chamber of his father, in which were ranged many casks of old wine, and gold and bronze, and clothing and olive oil; and of these things the prudent Eurycleia, who was the keeper of the house, had care. To her he spake: “Mother, make ready for me twelve jars of wine, not of the best, but of that which is next to it, and twenty measures of barley-meal. At even will I take them, when my mother sleeps, for I go to Pylos and Sparta; perchance I may hear news of my father.”

But the old woman said, weeping: “What meanest thou, being an only son, thus to travel abroad? Wilt thou perish, as thy father has perished? For this evil brood of suitors will plot to slay thee and divide thy goods. Thou hadst better sit peaceably at home.”

Then Telemachus said: “'Tis at the bidding of the gods I go. Only swear that thou wilt say naught to my mother till eleven or twelve days be past, unless, perchance, she should ask concerning me.”

And the old woman sware that it should be so. And Telemachus went again among the suitors. But Athene, meanwhile, taking his shape, had gathered together a crew, and also had borrowed a ship for the voyage. And, lest the suitors should hinder the thing, she caused a deep sleep to fall upon them, so that they slept where they sat. Then she came in the shape of Mentor to the palace, and called Telemachus forth, saying:

“The rowers are ready; let us go.”

Then Athene led the way, and they found the ship's crew upon the shore. To them spake Telemachus, saying, “Come now, my friends, let us carry the food on board, for it is all in the chamber, and no one knoweth of the matter; neither my mother, nor any of the maidens, but one woman only.”

So they went to the house with him, and carried all the provision, and stowed it in the ship. Then Telemachus climbed the ship and sat down on the stern, and Athene sat by him.

And when he called to the crew, they made ready to depart. They raised the pine tree mast, and set it in the hole that was made for it, and they made it fast with stays. Then they hauled up the white sails with ropes of ox-hide. And the wind filled out the sail, and the water seethed about the stem of the ship, as she hasted through the water. And when all was made fast in the ship, then they mixed wine in the bowl, and poured out drink offerings to the gods, especially to Zeus.

So all the night, and till the dawn, the ship sped through the sea.