CHAPTER XIV. ITHACA
When Ulysses had ended his tale there was silence for a space throughout the hall. And after a while King Alcinous spake, saying: “Ulysses, now thou art come to my house, thou shalt no longer be kept from thy return. And on you, chiefs of the Phaeacians, I lay this command. Garments and gold are already stored for this stranger in a chest. Let us now, also, give him each a gift.”
This saying pleased the princes, and they went each man to his house; and the next day they brought the gifts; and the King himself bestowed them under the benches, that the rowers might not be hindered in their rowing.
When these things were finished, the princes betook them to the palace of the King; and he sacrificed an ox to Zeus, and they feasted, and the minstrel sang. But still Ulysses would ever look to the sun, as if he would have hastened his going down; for indeed he was very desirous to return as a man desireth his supper, when he hath been driving the plough all day through a field with a yoke of oxen before him, and is right glad when the sun sinketh in the west, so Ulysses was glad at the passing of the daylight. And he spake, saying:—
“Pour out, now, the drink-offering, my lord the King, and send me on my way. Now do I bid you farewell, for ye have given me all that my heart desired, noble gifts and escort to my home. May the gods give me with them good luck, and grant, also, that I may find my wife and my friends in my home unharmed! And may ye abide here in joy with your wives and children, and may ye have all manner of good things and may no evil come near you.”
Then spake the King to his squire: “Mix, now, the bowl, and serve out the wine, that we may pray to Zeus, and send the stranger on his way.”
So the squire mixed the wine, and served it out; and they all made offering, and prayed.
Then Ulysses rose in his place, and placed the cup in the hand of Arete, the Queen, and spake: “Fare thee well, O Queen, till old age and death, which no man may escape, shall come upon thee! I go to my home; and do thou rejoice in thy children and in thy people, and in thy husband, the King.”
When he had so said, he stepped over the threshold. And Alcinous sent with him a squire to guide him to the ship, and Arete sent maidens, bearing fresh clothing, and bread and wine. When they came to the ship, the rowers took the things, and laid them in the hold. Also they spread for Ulysses a rug and a linen sheet in the hinder part of the ship, that his sleep might be sound.
When these things were ended Ulysses climbed on board, and lay down; and the men sat upon the benches, and unbound the hawser. And it came to pass that so soon as they touched the water with the oars, a deep sleep fell upon him. As four horses carry a chariot quickly over the plain, so quick did the ship pass over the waves Not even a hawk, that is the swiftest of all flying things, could have kept pace with it.
And when the star that is the herald of the morning came up in the heaven, then did the ship approach the island. There is a certain harbour in Ithaca, the harbour of Phorcys [Footnote: Phor'-cys], the sea-god, where two great cliffs on either side break the force of the waves; a ship that can win her way into it can ride safely without moorings. And at the head of this harbour there is an olive tree, and a cave hard by which is sacred to the nymphs. Two gates hath the cave, one looking towards the north, by which men may enter, and one towards the south, which belongeth only to the gods. To this place the Phaeacians guided the ship, for they knew it well. Half the length of the keel did they run her ashore, so quickly did they row her. Then they lifted Ulysses out of the stern as he lay in the sheet and the rug which the Queen had given him. And still he slept. They took out also the gifts which the princes of the Phaeacians had given him, and laid them in a heap by the trunk of the olive tree, a little way from the road, lest some passer-by should rob him while he slept. After this they departed homeward.
But Poseidon still remembered his anger, and said to Zeus: “Now shall I be held in dishonour among the gods, for mortal men, even these Phaeacians, who are of my own kindred, pay me no regard. I said that this Ulysses should return in great affliction to his home; and now they have carried him safely across the sea, with such a store of gifts as he never would have won out of Troy, even had he come back unharmed with all his share of the spoil.”
To him Zeus made answer: “What is that thou sayest, lord of the sea? How can the gods dishonour thee, who art the eldest among them? And if men withhold from thee the worship that is due, thou canst punish them after thy pleasure. Do, therefore, as thou wilt.”
Then said Poseidon: “I would have done so long since, had not I feared thy wrath. But now I will smite this ship of the Phaeacians as she cometh back from carrying this man to his home. So shall they learn henceforth not to send men homeward; and their city will I overshadow with a great mountain.”
And Zeus made answer to him, “Do as thou wilt.”
Then Poseidon came down to the land of the Phaeacians, and there he tarried till the ship came near, speeding swiftly on her way. Thereupon he struck her, changing her into a stone, and rooting her to the bottom of the sea.
But the Phaeacians said one to another: “Who is this that hath hindered our ship, as she journeyed homeward? Even now she was plain to see.”
But King Alcinous spake, saying: “Now are the prophecies fulfilled which my father was wont to speak. For he said that Poseidon was wroth with us because we carried men safely across the sea, and that one day the god would smite one of our ships, and change it into a stone, and that he would also overshadow our city with a great mountain. Now, therefore, let us cease from conveying men to their homes, and let us do sacrifice to Poseidon, slaying twelve bulls, that he overshadow not our city with a great mountain.”
So the King spake, and the princes did as he commanded them.
Meanwhile Ulysses awoke in the land of Ithaca, and he knew not the place, for Athene had spread a great mist about it, doing it, as will be seen, with a good purpose, that he might safely accomplish that which it was in his heart to do. Then Ulysses started up, and made lament, saying: “Woe is me! To what land am I come? Are the men barbarous and unjust, or are they hospitable and righteous? Whither shall I carry these riches of mine? And whither shall I go myself? Surely the Phaeacians have dealt unfairly with me, for they promised that they would carry me back to my own country, but now they have taken me to a strange land. May Zeus punish them therefor! But let me first see to my goods, and reckon them up, lest the men should have taken some of them.”
Thereupon he numbered the treasure and found that nothing was wanting. But not the less did he bewail him for his country.
But as he walked, lamenting, by the shore, Athene met him, having the likeness of a young shepherd, fair to look upon, such as are the sons of kings. Ulysses was glad when he saw her, though he knew her not, and said: “Friend, thou art the first man that I have seen in this land. Now, therefore, I pray thee to save my substance, and myself also. But first, tell me true—what land is this to which I am come, and what is the people? Is it an island, or a portion of the mainland?”
And the false shepherd said: “Thou art foolish, or, may be, hast come from very far, not to know this country. Many men know it, both in the east and in the west. Rocky it is, not fit for horses, nor is it very broad; but it is fertile land, and good for wine; nor does it want for rain, and a good pasture it is for oxen and goats; and men call it Ithaca. Even in Troy, which is very far, they say, from this land of Greece, men have heard of Ithaca.”
This Ulysses was right glad to hear. Yet he was not minded to say who he was, but rather to feign a tale.
So he said: “Yes, of a truth, I heard of this Ithaca in Crete, from which I am newly come, with all this wealth, leaving also as much behind for my children. For I slew the son of the King, because he would have taken from me my spoil. And certain Phoenicians [Footnote: Phoe-ni'-ci-ans] agreed to take me to Pylos or to Elis;[Footnote: E'-lis] but the wind drave them hither, and while I slept they put me upon the shore, and my possessions with me, and departed.”
This pleased Athene much, and she changed her shape, becoming like to a woman, tall and fair, and said to Ulysses:—
“Right cunning would he be who could cheat thee. Even now in thy native country thou dost not cease thy cunning words and deceits! But let these things be; for thou art the wisest of mortal men, and I excel among the gods in counsel. For I am Athene, daughter of Zeus, who am ever wont to stand by thee and help thee. And now we will hide these possessions of thine; and thou must be silent, nor tell to any one who thou art, and endure many things, so that thou mayest come to thine own again,”
To her Ulysses made answer: “It is hard for a mortal man to know thee, O goddess, however wise he may be, for thou takest many shapes. While I was making war against Troy with the other Greeks, thou wast ever kindly to me. But from the time that we took the city of Priam, and set sail for our homes, I saw thee not, until thou didst meet me in the land of the Phaeacians, comforting me, and guiding me thyself into the city. And now I beseech thee, by thy Father Zeus, to tell me truly: is this Ithaca that I see, for it seems to me that I have come to some other country, and that thou dost mock me. Tell me, therefore, whether in very deed I am come to mine own country.”
Then Athene answered him: “Never will I leave thee, for indeed thou art wise and prudent above all others. For any other man, so coming back after many wanderings, would have hastened to see his wife and his children; but thou will first make trial of thy wife. Come now, I wilt show thee this land of Ithaca, that thou mayest be assured in thy heart. Lo! here is the harbour of Phorcys; here at the harbour's head is the olive tree; here also is the pleasant cave that is sacred to the nymphs, and there, behold, is the wooded hill.”
Then the goddess scattered the mist, so that he saw the land. Then, indeed, he knew it for Ithaca, and he kneeled down and kissed the ground, and prayed to the nymphs, saying: “Never did I think to see you again; but now I greet you lovingly. Many gifts also will I give you, if Athene be minded, of her grace, to bring me to my own again.” Then said Athene: “Take heart, and be not troubled. But first let us put away thy goods safely in the secret place of the cave.”
Then Ulysses brought up the brass, and the gold, and the raiment that the Phaeacians had given him, and they two stored it in the cave, and Athene laid a great stone upon the mouth.
And Athene said: “Think, man of many devices, how thou wilt lay hands on these men, suitors of thy wife, who for three years have sat in thy house devouring thy substance. And she hath answered them craftily, making many promises, but still waiting for thy coming.”
Then Ulysses said: “Truly I should have perished but for thee. But do thou help me, as of old in Troy, for with thee at my side I would fight with three hundred men.”
Then said Athene: “Lo! I will cause that no man shall know thee, for I will wither the fair flesh on thy limbs, and take the bright hair from thy head, and make thine eyes dull. And the suitors shall take no account of thee, neither shall thy wife nor thy son know thee. But go to the swineherd Eumaeus [Footnote: Eu-mae'- us.], where he dwells by the fountain of Arethusa [Footnote: A-re- thu'-sa.], for he is faithful to thee and to thy house. And I will hasten to Sparta, to the house of Menelaus, to fetch Telemachus, for he went thither, seeking news of thee.”
But Ulysses said to the goddess: “Why didst thou not tell him, seeing that thou knewest all? Was it that he too might wander over the seas in great affliction, and that others meanwhile might consume his goods?”
Then Athene made reply: “Trouble not thyself concerning him. I guided him myself that he might earn a good report, as a son searching for his father. Now he sitteth in peace in the hall of Menelaus. And though there are some that lie in wait for him to slay him, yet shall they not have their will. Rather shall they perish themselves and others with them that have devoured thy goods.”
Then she touched him with her rod. She caused his skin to wither, and wasted the hair upon his head, and made his skin as the skin of an old man, and dimmed his eyes. His garments she changed so that they became torn and filthy and defiled with smoke. Over all she cast the skin of a great stag from which the hair was worn. A staff also she gave him, and a tattered pouch, and a rope wherewith to fasten it.