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CHAPTER V. MENELAUS'S TALE

The next day Menelaus said to Telemachus: “For what end hast thou come hither to fair Lacedaemon?”

Then Telemachus said: “I have come to ask if thou canst tell me aught of my father. For certain suitors of my mother devour my goods, nor do I see any help. Tell me truly, therefore; knowest thou anything thyself about my father, or hast thou heard anything from another?”

And Menelaus answered:—

“In the river AEgyptus I was stayed long time, though I was eager to get home; the gods stayed me, for I had not offered to them due sacrifice. Now there is an island in the wash of the waves over against the land of Egypt—men call it Pharos [Footnote: Pha'- ros.], and it is distant one day's voyage for a ship, if the wind bloweth fair in her wake. Here did the gods keep me twenty days, nor did the sea winds ever blow. Then all my corn would have been spent, and the lives also of my men lost, if the daughter of Proteus [Footnote: Pro'-teus.]had not taken pity on me. Her heart was moved to see me when I wandered alone, apart from my company, for they all roamed about the island, fishing with hooks because hunger gnawed them. So she stood by me and spake, saying: 'Art thou foolish, stranger, and feeble of mind, or dost thou sit still for thine own pleasure, because it is sweet to thee to suffer? Verily, thou stayest long in this place, and canst find no escape, while the heart of thy people faileth within them.' Then I answered: 'I will tell thee the truth, whosoever thou art. It is not my own will that holdeth me here; I must have sinned against the gods. Tell me now which of the gods have I offended, and how shall I contrive to return to my own home?' So I spake, and straightway the goddess made answer: 'I will tell thee all. To this place comes Proteus, my father, who knoweth the depths of all the sea. If thou canst lay an ambush for him and catch him, he will declare to thee thy way, and tell thee how thou mayest return across the deep.' So she spake, and I made reply, 'Plan for me this ambush, lest by any chance he see me first and avoid me, for it is hard for a man to overcome a god.' Then said the goddess: 'When the sun in his course hath reached the midheaven, then cometh the old man from the sea; before the breath of the west wind he cometh, and the ripple covereth him. And when he is come out of the sea, he lieth down in the caves to sleep, and all about him lie the seals, the brood of ocean, and bitter is the smell of the salt water that they breathe. Thither will I lead thee at break of day, thee and three of thy companions. Choose them from thy ships, the bravest that thou hast. And now I will tell thee the old man's ways. First, he will count the seals, and then will lie down in the midst, as a shepherd in the midst of his flock. Now, so soon as ye shall see him thus laid down, then remember your courage, and hold him there. And he will take all manner of shapes of creatures that creep upon the earth, and of water likewise, and of burning fire. But do ye grasp him fast, and press him hard, and when he shall return to his proper shape, then let him go free, and ask him which of the gods is angry with thee, and how thou mayest return across the deep.' Thereupon she dived beneath the sea, and I betook me to the ships; but I was sorely troubled in heart. The next morning I took three of my comrades, in whom I trusted most, and lo! she had brought from the sea the skins of four sea-calves, which she had newly flayed, for she was minded to lay a snare for her father. She scooped hiding-places for us in the sand, and made us lie down therein, and cast the skin of a sea-calf over each of us. It would have been a grievous ambush, for the stench of the skins had distressed us sore,—who, indeed, would lay him down by a beast of the sea?—but she wrought a deliverance for us. She took ambrosia [Footnote: ambrosia, the food of the gods.], very sweet, and put it under each man's nostrils, that it might do away with the stench of the beast.

“So all the morning we waited with steadfast hearts. And the seals came forth from the brine, and ranged them in order upon the shore. And at noon the old man came forth out of the sea, and went along the line of the sea-beasts, and counted them. Us, too, he counted among them, and perceived not our device; and after that he laid him down to sleep. Then we rushed upon him with a cry, and held him fast; nor did he forget his cunning, for he became a bearded lion, and a snake, and a leopard, and a great wild boar. Also he took the shape of running water, and of a flowering tree. And all the while we held him fast. When at last he was weary, he said, 'Which of the gods, son of Atreus [Footnote: A'-treus.], bade thee thus waylay me?' But I answered him: 'Wherefore dost thou beguile me, old man, with crooked words? I am held fast in this isle, and can find no escape therefrom. Tell me now which of the gods hindereth me, and how I may return across the sea?' The old man made reply: 'Thou shouldst have done sacrifice to Zeus and the other gods before embarking, if thou wouldst have reached thy native country with speed. But now thou must go again to the river AEgyptus, and make offerings to the gods; then they will grant that which thou desirest.' Then was my spirit broken within me, when I heard that I must cross again this weary way, but I said: 'Old man, I will do all thy bidding. But tell me now, I pray thee, did the other Greeks, whom Nestor and I left behind us in Troy, return safe to their homes, or perished any by an evil death on board of his ship or among his friends?' To this the old man made reply: 'Thou doest ill to ask such things, for thou wilt weep to hear them. Thy brother indeed escaped from the fates of the sea; but the storm-wind carried him to the land where Aegisthus dwelt. And when Agamemnon [Footnote: Ag-a-mem'-non.]set foot upon his native land, he kissed it, weeping hot tears, so glad was he to see it again. And Aegisthus set an ambush for him, and slew him and all his companions.' Then I wept sore, caring not to live any more. But the old man said: 'Weep not, son of Atreus, for there is no help in tears. Rather make haste to return, that thou mayest take vengeance on AEgisthus.'[Footnote: AE-gis'-thus.] So he spake, and my heart was comforted within me, and I said: 'There is yet another of whom I would fain hear. Is he yet alive, wandering on the deep, or is he dead? Speak, though it grieve me to hear.' Straightway the old man answered: 'It is the son of Laertes of whom thou speakest. Him I saw in an island, even in the dwelling of Calypso; and he was shedding great tears, because the nymph keeps him there by force, so that he may not come to his own country, for he hath neither ship nor comrades.' So spake Proteus, and plunged into the sea. The next day we went back to the river AEgyptus, the stream that is fed from heaven, and offered sacrifice to the gods. And I made a great burial mound for Agamemnon, my brother, that his name might not be forgotten among men. And when these things had been duly performed, I set sail, and came back to my own country, for the gods gave me a fair wind. But do thou tarry now in my halls. And when thou art minded to go, I will give thee a chariot and three horses with it, and a goodly cup also, from which thou mayest pour offerings to the gods.”

To him Telemachus made reply: “Keep me not long, son of Atreus, for my company wait for me in Pylos, though indeed I would be content to stay with thee for a whole year, nor would any longing for my home come over me. And let any gift thou givest me be a thing for me to treasure. But I will take no horses to Ithaca. Rather let them stay here and grace thy home, for thou art lord of a wide plain where there is wheat and rye and barley. But in Ithaca there is no meadow land. It is a pasture land of goats, yet verily it is more pleasant to my eyes than as if it were a fit feeding-place for horses.”

Then said Menelaus: “Thou speakest well, as becometh the son of thy father. Come, now, I will change the gifts. Of all the treasures in my house, I will give thee the goodliest, especially a bowl which the King of the Sidonians gave me. Of silver it is, and the lips are finished with gold.”

Now it had been made known meanwhile to the suitors in Ithaca that Telemachus was gone upon this journey seeking his father, and the thing displeased them much. And after they had held counsel about the matter, it seemed best that they should lay an ambush against him, and should slay him as he came back to his home. So Antinous took twenty men and departed, purposing to lie in wait in the strait between Ithaca and Samos.[Footnote: Sa'-mos.]

Nor was this plan unknown to Penelope, for the herald Medon [Footnote: Me'-don.]had heard it, and he told her how Telemachus had gone seeking news of his father, and how the suitors purposed to slay him as he returned. And she called her women, old and young, and rebuked them, saying: “Wicked ye were, for ye knew that he was about to go, and did not rouse me from my bed. Surely I would have kept him, eager though he was, from his journey!”

Then said Eurycleia: “Slay me, if thou wilt, but I will hide nothing from thee. I knew his purpose, and I furnished him with such things as he needed. But he made me swear that I would not tell thee till the eleventh or the twelfth day was come. But go with thy maidens and make thy prayer to Athene that she will save him, from death; for this house is not altogether hated by the gods.”

Then Penelope, having duly prepared herself, went with her maidens to the upper chamber, and prayed aloud to Athene that she would save her son. And the suitors heard her praying, and said, “Surely the Queen prays, thinking of her marriage, nor knows that death is near to her son.”

Then she lay down to sleep, and while she slept Athene sent her a dream in the likeness of her sister. And the vision stood over her head and spake: “Sleepest thou, Penelope? The gods would not have thee grieve, for thy son shall surely return.”

And Penelope said: “How camest thou here, my sister? For thy dwelling is far away. And how can I cease to weep when my husband is lost? And now my son is gone, and I am sore afraid for him, lest his enemies slay him.”

But the vision answered: “Fear not at all; for there is a mighty helper with him, even Athene, who hath bid me tell thee these things.”

Then Penelope said: “If thou art a goddess, tell me this. Is my husband yet alive?”

But the vision answered, “That I cannot say, whether he be alive or dead.” And so saying, it vanished into air.

And Penelope woke from her sleep, and her heart was comforted.