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CHAPTER VIII. ALCINOUS

Nausicaa came to her father's house, and there her brothers unyoked the mules from the wagon, and carried the garments into the house; and the maiden went to her chamber, where a nurse kindled for her a fire, and prepared a meal.

At the same time Ulysses rose to go to the city; and Athene spread a mist about him, for she would not that any of the Phaeacians should see him and mock him. And when he was now about to enter the city, the goddess took upon herself the shape of a young maiden carrying a pitcher, and met him.

Then Ulysses asked her: “My child, canst thou tell me where dwells Alcinous? for I am a stranger in this place.”

She answered: “I will show thee, for he dwells near to my own father. But be thou silent, for we Phaeacians love not strangers over much.”

Then Athene led the way, and Ulysses followed after her; and much he marvelled, as he went, at the harbours, and the ships, and the places of assembly, and the walls. And when they came to the palace, Athene said: “This is the place for which thou didst inquire. Enter in; here thou shalt find kings at the feast; but be not afraid; the fearless man ever fares the best. And look thou first for Queen Arete.[Footnote: A-re'-te.] If she be well disposed to thee, doubtless thou wilt see thy native country again.”

Having thus spoken, Athene departed, and Ulysses entered the palace. In it there was a gleam as of the sun or the moon.

A wondrous place it was, with walls of brass and doors of gold, hanging on posts of silver; and on either side of the door were dogs of gold and silver, and against the wall, all along from the threshold to the inner chamber, were set seats, on which sat the chiefs of the Phaeacians, feasting; and youths wrought in gold stood holding torches in their hands, to give light in the darkness. Fifty women were in the house, grinding corn and weaving robes, for the women of the land are no less skilled to weave than are the men to sail the sea. And round about the house were beautiful gardens, with orchards of fig, and apple, and pear, and pomegranate, and olive. Drought hurts them not, nor frost, and harvest comes after harvest without ceasing. Also there was a vineyard; and some of the grapes were parching in the sun, and some were being gathered, and some again were but just turning red. And there were beds of all manner of flowers; and in the midst of all were two fountains which never failed.

These things Ulysses regarded for a space, and then passed into the hall. And there the chiefs of Phaeacia were drinking their last cup to Hermes. Quickly he passed through them, and put his hands on the knees of Arete and said—and as he spake the mist cleared from about him, and all that were in the hall beheld him:—

“I implore thee, and thy husband, and thy guests, to send me home to my native country. The gods bless thee and them, and grant you to live in peace, and that your children should come peacefully after you!”

And he sat down in the ashes of the hearth. Then for a space all were silent, but at the last spake Echeneus [Footnote: E-che-ne'- us.], who was the oldest man in the land:—

“King Alcinous, this ill becomes you that this man should sit in the ashes of the hearth. Raise him and bid him sit upon a seat, and let us pour out an offering to Father Zeus, who is the friend of strangers, and let the keeper of the house give him meat and drink.”

And Alcinous did so, bidding his eldest born, Laodamas [Footnote: La-o'-da-mas.], rise from his seat. And an attendant poured water on his hands, and the keeper of the house gave him meat and drink. Then, when all had poured out an offering to Father Zeus, King Alcinous spake, saying: “In the morning we will call an assembly of the people, and consider how we may take this stranger to his home, so that he may reach it without trouble or pain. Home will we take him without hurt, but what things may befall him there, we know not; these shall be as the Fates spun his thread. But, if he is a god and not a man, then is this a new device of the gods. For heretofore they have shown themselves openly in our midst, when we offer sacrifice, and sit by our sides at feasts. Yea, and if a traveller meet them on the way, they use no disguise, for indeed they are near of kin to us.”

Then spake Ulysses: “Think not such things within thy heart, O King! I am no god but one that is most miserable among the sons of men. Of many woes might I tell. Nevertheless, suffer me to eat; for, however sad a man may be, yet he must eat and drink. But when the day cometh, bestir yourselves, and carry me to my home. Fain would I die if I could see my home again!”

And they answered that it should be so, and went each to his home. Only Ulysses was left in the hall, and Alcinous and Arete with him. And Arete recognized his clothing, and said:—

“Whence art thou, stranger? and who gave thee these garments?”

So Ulysses told her how he had come from the island of Calypso, and what he had suffered, and how Nausicaa had found him on the shore, and had guided him to the city.

And Alcinous blamed the maiden because she had not herself brought him to the house. “Nay,” said Ulysses, “she would have brought me, but I would not, fearing thy wrath.” For he would not have the maiden blamed.

Then said Alcinous: “I am not one to be angered for such cause. Gladly would I have such a one as thou art to be my son-in-law, and I would give him house and wealth. But no one would I hold against his will. As for sending thee to thy home, that is easy; thou shalt lay thee down to sleep, and my men shalt smite the sea with oars, and take thee whithersoever thou wilt, even though it be to the furthest of all lands. For verily my ships are the best that sail the sea, and my young men the most skilful of all that ply the oar.”

So he spake, and Ulysses rejoiced to hear his words. And he prayed within himself, “Grant, Father Zeus, that Alcinous may fulfil all that he hath said, and that I may come to my own land!”

Then Arete bade her handmaids prepare a bed for the stranger. So they went from the hall, with torches in their hands, and made it ready. And when they had ended they called Ulysses, saying, “Up, stranger, and sleep, for thy bed is ready.”

Right glad was he to sleep after all that he had endured.