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CHAPTER XV. EUMAEUS, THE SWINEHERD

Athene departed to Lacedaemon that she might fetch Telemachus, and Ulysses went to the house of Eumaeus, the swineherd. A great courtyard there was, and twelve sties for the sows, and four watch-dogs, fierce as wild beasts. In each sty were penned fifty swine; but the hogs were fewer in number, for the suitors ever devoured them at their feasts. There were but three hundred and threescore in all. The swineherd himself was shaping sandals, and of his men three were with the swine in the fields, and one was driving a fat beast to the city, to be meat for the suitors. But when Ulysses came near, the dogs ran upon him, and he dropped his staff and sat down, and yet would have suffered harm, even on his own threshold; but the swineherd ran forth and drave them away with stones, and spake unto his lord, though, indeed, he knew him not, saying:—

“Old man, the dogs came near to killing thee. That would, indeed, have been a shame and a grief to me; and, verily, I have other griefs in plenty. Here I sit and sorrow for my lord, and rear the fat swine for others to devour, while he, perchance, wanders hungry over the deep, or in the land of strangers, if, indeed, he lives. But come now, old man, to my house, and tell me who thou art, and what sorrows thou hast thyself endured.”

Then the swineherd led him to his dwelling, and set him down on a seat of brushwood, with the hide of a wild goat spread on it. The hide was both large and soft, and he was wont himself to sleep on it.

Greatly did Ulysses rejoice at this welcome, and he said, “Now may Zeus and the other gods grant thee thy heart's desire, with such kindness hast thou received me!”

The swineherd made answer: “It were a wicked thing in me to slight a stranger, for the stranger and the beggar are from Zeus. But from us that are thralls and in fear of our master, even a little gift is precious. And the gods have stayed the return of my master. Had he come back he would surely have given me a house, and a portion of land, and a fair wife withal; for such things do lords give to servants that serve them well. Well would my lord have rewarded me, had he tarried at home. But now he hath perished. For he, too, went to Troy, that Agamemnon and Menalaus, his brother, might take vengeance on the Trojans.”

Then he went away to the sties, and brought from thence two young pigs, and singed them, and cut them into pieces, and broiled them upon spits. And when he had cooked them, he set them before the beggar man. He also mixed wine in a bowl of ivy-wood, and sat down opposite his guest, and bade him eat, saying: “Eat now such food as I can give thee; as for the fat hogs, them the suitors devour. Truly these men have no pity, nor fear of the gods. They must have heard that my lord is dead, so wickedly do they behave themselves. They do not woo as other suitors woo, nor do they go back to their own houses, but they sit at ease, and devour our wealth without stint. Once my lord had possessions beyond all counting; none in Ithaca nor on the mainland had so much. Hear now the sum of them: on the mainland twenty herds of kine, and flocks of sheep as many, and droves of swine as many, and as many herds of goats. Also here at this island's end he had eleven flocks of goats. Day by day do they take one of the goats for the suitors, and I take for them the best of the hogs.”

So he spake, and Ulysses ate flesh and drank wine the while; but not a word did he speak, for he was planning the suitors' death. But at the last he spake: “My friend, who was this, thy lord, of whom thou speakest? Thou sayest that he perished, seeking to get vengeance for King Menelaus. Tell me now, for it may be that I have seen him, for I have wandered far.”

But Eumaeus said: “Nay, old man, thus do all wayfarers talk, yet we hear no truth from them. Not a vagabond fellow comes to this island but our Queen must see him, and ask him many things, weeping the while. And thou, I doubt not, would tell a wondrous tale. But Ulysses, I know, is dead, and either the fowls of the air devour him, or the fishes of the sea.”

But the false beggar said: “Hearken now, I swear to thee that Ulysses will return. And so soon as this shall come to pass thou shalt let me have the reward of good tidings. A mantle and a tunic shalt thou give me. But before it shall happen, I will take nothing, though my need be sore. Now Zeus be my witness, and this hospitable hearth of Ulysses to which I am come, that all these things shall come to pass even as I have said. This year shall Ulysses return; yea, while the moon waneth he shall come, and take vengeance on all who dishonour his name.”

But Eumaeus made answer: “It is not I, old man, that shall ever pay the reward of good tidings. Truly, Ulysses will never more come back to his home. But let us turn our thought to other things. Bring thou not these to my remembrance any more; for, indeed, my heart is filled with sorrow, if any man put me in mind of my lord. As for thine oath, let it be. Earnestly do I pray that Ulysses may indeed return; for this is my desire, and the desire of his wife, and of the old man Laertes, and of Telemachus. And now I am troubled concerning Telemachus also. I thought that he would be no worse a man than his father; but some one, whether it were god or man I know not, took away his wits, and he went to Pylos, seeking news of his father. And now the suitors lie in wait for him, desiring that the race of Ulysses may perish utterly out of the land. Come now, old man, and tell me who art thou, and whence? On what ship did thou come, for that by ship thou earnest to Ithaca I do not doubt.”

Then Ulysses answered: “Had we food and wine to last us for a year, and could sit quietly here and talk, while others go to their work, so long I should be in telling thee fully all my troubles that I have endured upon the earth.”

Then he told a false tale,—how he was a Cretan who had been shipwrecked, and after many sufferings had reached Thesprotia [Footnote: Thes-pro'ti-a.], where he had heard of Ulysses. And when he sailed thence, the sailors were minded to sell him as a slave, but he had broken his bonds, and swam ashore, when they were near the island, and had hidden himself in the woods.

Then said the swineherd: “Stranger, thou hast stirred my heart with the tale of all that thou hast suffered. But in this thing, I fear, thou speakest not aright, saying that Ulysses will return. Well I know that he was hated of the gods, because they smote him not when he was warring against the men of Troy, nor afterwards among his friends, when the war was ended. Then would the host have builded for him a great mound; and he would have won great renown for himself and for his children. But now he hath perished ingloriously by the storms of the sea. As for me, I dwell apart with the swine, and go not into the city, save when there have been brought, no man knows whence, some tidings of my master. Then all the people sit about the bringer of news, and question him, both those who desire their lord's return, and those who delight in devouring his substance without recompense. But I care not to ask questions, since the time when a certain AEtolian [Footnote: AE-to'-li-an.] cheated me with his story. He too had slain a man, and had wandered over many lands, and when he came to my house, I dealt kindly with him. This fellow said that he had seen my lord with the King of Crete, and that he was mending his ships which the storm had broken. Also he said that he would come home when it was summer, or harvest time, and would bring much wealth with him. But thou, old man, seek not to gain my favour with lies, nor to comfort me with idle words.”

But Ulysses answered: “Verily, thou art slow of heart to believe. Even with an oath have I not persuaded thee. But come, let us make an agreement together, and the gods shall be our witnesses. If thy lord shall return, then shalt thou give me a mantle and a tunic, and send me on my way, whither I desire to go. But if he come not back according to my word, then let thy men throw me down from a great rock, that others may fear to deceive.”

Then the swineherd said: “Much credit, truly, should I gain among men, if, having entertained thee in my house, I should turn and slay thee; and with a good heart, hereafter, should I pray to Zeus. But it is time for supper, and I would that my men were returned that we might make ready a meal.”

While he spake, the swine and the swineherds drew near; and Eumaeus called to his fellows, saying: “Bring the best of the swine, for I would entertain a guest who comes from far. Verily, we endure much toil for these beasts, while others devour them, and make no return.”

So they brought a hog of five years old; and the swineherd kindled a fire, and when he had cast bristles from the hog into the fire, to do honour to the gods, he slew the beast, and made ready the flesh. Seven portions he made; one he set apart for the nymphs and for Hermes, and of the rest he gave one to each. But Ulysses had the chief portion, even the chine.

Then was Ulysses glad, and spake, saying, “Eumaeus, mayest thou be dear to Zeus, for thou hast dealt kindly with me.”

And Eumaeus answered: “Eat, stranger, and make merry with what thou hast. The gods give some things, and some things they withhold.”

Now the night was cold, and it rained without ceasing; for the west wind, that ever bringeth rain, was blowing; and Ulysses was minded to try the swineherd, whether he would give him his own mantle, or bid another do so. Therefore, when they were about to sleep, he said:—

“Listen to me. O that I was young, and my strength unbroken, as in the days when we fought before the city of Troy.

“Once upon a time we laid an ambush near to the city of Troy. And Menelaus and Ulysses and I were the leaders of it. In the reeds we sat, and the night was cold, and the snow lay upon our shields. Now all the others had cloaks, but I had left mine behind at the ships. So, when the night was three parts spent, I spake to Ulysses, 'Here am I without a cloak; soon, methinks, shall I perish with the cold.' Soon did he bethink him of a remedy, for he was ever ready with counsel. Therefore he said: 'Hush, lest some one hear thee; and to the others, 'I have been warned in a dream. We are very far from the ships, and in peril. Therefore, let some one run to the ships, to King Agamemnon, that he send more men to help.' Then one rose up and ran, casting off his cloak; and this I took, and slept warmly therein. Were I this night such as then I was, I should not lack such kindness even now.”

Then said Eumaeus: “This is well spoken, old man. Thou shalt have a cloak to cover thee. But in the morning thou must put on thy own rags again. Yet, perchance, when the son of Ulysses shall come, he will give thee new garments.”

Thereupon he arose, and set a bed for Ulysses, making it with sheepskins and goatskins, near to the fire; and when Ulysses lay down, he cast a thick cloak over him, that he had in case a great storm should arise. But he himself slept beside the boars, to guard them; and Ulysses was glad to see that he was very careful for his master's substance, even though he was so long time away.