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CHAPTER XVII. ULYSSES AND TELEMACHUS

Telemachus in his ship came safe to the island of Ithaca, at the place that was nearest to the swineherd's house. There they beached the ship, and made it fast with anchors at the fore part and hawsers at the stern, and they landed, and made ready a meal.

When they had had enough of meat and drink, Telemachus said: “Take now the ship to the city. I will come thither in the evening, having first seen my farm; and then I will pay you your wages.”

Now the herdsman and Ulysses had kindled a fire, and were making ready breakfast.

And Ulysses heard the steps of a man, and, as the dogs barked not, he said to Eumaeus, “Lo! there comes some comrade or friend, for the dogs bark not.”

And as he spake, Telemachus stood in the doorway; and the swineherd let fall from his hand the bowl in which he was mixing wine, and ran to him and kissed his head and his eyes and his hands. As a father kisses his only son, coming back to him from a far country after ten years, so did the swineherd kiss Telemachus. And when Telemachus came in, the false beggar, though indeed he was his father, rose, and would have given place to him; but Telemachus allowed him not to do so. And when they had eaten and drunk, Telemachus asked of the swineherd who this stranger might be.

Then the swineherd told him what he had heard, and afterwards said, “I hand him to thee; do as thou wilt.”

But Telemachus answered: “Nay, Eumaeus. For am I master in my house? Do not the suitors devour it? And does not my mother doubt whether she will abide with me, remembering the great Ulysses, who was her husband, or will follow some one of those who are suitors to her? I will give this stranger, indeed, food and clothing and a sword, and will send him whithersoever he will, but I would not that he should go among the suitors, so haughty are they and violent.”

Then said Ulysses: “But why dost thou bear with these men? Do the people hate thee, that thou canst not avenge thyself on them? and hast thou not kinsmen to help thee? As for me, I would rather die than see such shameful things done in a house of mine.”

And Telemachus answered: “My people hate me not; but as for kinsmen, I have none, for my grandfather had but one son, Laertes, and he but one, Ulysses, and Ulysses had none other but me. Therefore do these men spoil my substance, and, it may be, will take my life also. These things, however, the gods will order. But do thou, Eumaeus, go to Penelope, and tell her that I am returned; and let no man know thereof, for they plan evil against me; but I will stay here meanwhile.”

So Eumaeus departed. And when he had gone, Athene came, like a woman tall and fair; but Telemachus saw her not, for it is not given to all to see the immortal gods; but Ulysses saw her, and the dogs saw her, and whimpered for fear. She signed to Ulysses, and he went forth, and she said:—

“Hide not the matter from thy son, but plan with him how ye may slay the suitors, and lo! I am with you.”

Then she touched him with her golden wand. First she put about him a fresh robe of linen and new tunic. Also she made him larger and fairer to behold. More dark did he grow, and his cheeks were rounded again, and the beard spread out black upon his chin.

Having so done, she passed away. But when Ulysses went into the hut, his son looked at him, greatly marvelling. Indeed, he feared that it might be some god.

“Stranger,” he said, “surely thou art not what thou wast but a moment since; other garments hast thou, and the colour of thy skin is changed. Verily, thou must be some god from heaven. Stay awhile, that we may offer to thee sacrifice, so shalt thou have mercy on us!”

Ulysses made answer, “I am no god; I am thy father, for whom thou hast sought with much trouble of heart.”

So saying, he kissed his son, and let fall a tear, but before he had kept in his tears continually.

But Telemachus, doubting yet whether this could indeed be his father, made reply: “Thou canst not be my father; some god deceiveth me that I may have sorrow upon sorrow. No mortal man could contrive this, making himself now young, now old, at his pleasure. A moment since thou wast old, and clad in vile garments; now thou art as one of the gods in heaven.”

But Ulysses answered him, saying: “Telemachus, it is not fitting for thee to marvel so much at thy father's coming home. It is indeed my very self who am come, now at last in the twentieth year, having suffered many things and wandered over many lands. And this at which thou wonderest is Athene's work; she it is that maketh me now like to an old man and a beggar and now to a young man clad in rich raiment.”

So speaking, he sat him down again, and Telemachus threw himself upon his father's neck and wept, and his father wept also. And when they had dried their tears, Telemachus said, “Tell me how thou camest back, my father?”

So Ulysses told him, saying: “The Phaeacians brought me back from their country while I slept. Many gifts did they send with me. These have I hidden in a cave. And to this place have I come by the counsel of Athene, that we may plan together for the slaying of the suitors. But come, tell me the number of the suitors, how many they are and what manner of men. Shall we twain be able to make war upon them or must we get the help of others?”

Then said Telemachus: “Thou art, I know, a great and wise warrior, my father, but this thing we cannot do; for these men are not ten, no, nor twice ten, but from Dulichium [Footnote: Du-lich'-i-um.] come fifty and two, and from Samos four and twenty, and from Zacynthus [Footnote: Za-cyn'-thus.] twenty, and from Ithaca twelve; and they have Medon, the herald, and a minstrel also, and attendants.”

Then said Ulysses: “Go thou home in the morning and mingle with the suitors, and I will come as an old beggar; and if they treat me shamefully, endure to see it, yea, if they drag me to the door. Only, if thou wilt, speak to them prudent words; but they will not heed thee, for indeed their doom is near. Heed this also: when I give thee a sign, take all the arms from the dwelling and hide them in thy chamber. And when they shall ask thee why thou doest thus, say that thou takest them out of the smoke, for that they are not such as Ulysses left behind him when he went to Troy, but that the smoke has soiled them. Say, also, that perchance they might stir up strife sitting at their cups, and that it is not well that arms should be at hand, for that the very steel draws on a man to fight. But keep two swords and two spears and two shields—these shall be for thee and me. Only let no one know of my coming back—not Laertes, nor the swineherd; no, nor Penelope herself.”

Meanwhile the ship of Telemachus came to the city, and a herald went to the palace with tidings for Penelope, lest she should be troubled for her son. So these two, the herald and the swineherd, came together, having the same errand. The herald spake out among the handmaids, saying: “O Queen, thy son is returned from Pylos!” But the swineherd went up to Penelope by herself, and told her all that Telemachus had bidden him to say. When he had so done, he turned about, and went home to his house and to the swine.

But the suitors were troubled in heart; and Eurymachus said: “This is a bold thing that Telemachus hath done. He hath accomplished his journey, which we said he never would accomplish. Let us, therefore, get rowers together, and send a ship, that we may bid our friends come back with all the speed they may.”

But even while he spake, Amphinomus [Footnote: Am-phi'-no-mus.] turned him about, and saw the ship in the harbour, and the men lowering the sails. Then he laughed and said: “No need is there to send a message, for the men themselves have come. Maybe some god hath told them; maybe they saw the ship of Telemachus go by, and could not overtake it.”

Then all the suitors went together to the place of assembly, and Antinous stood up and spake: “See how the gods have delivered this man! All day long our scouts sat and watched upon the headlands, one man taking another's place; and at sunset we rested not on the shore, but sailed on the sea, waiting for the morning. Yet some god hath brought him home. Nevertheless, we will bring him to an evil end, for so long as he liveth we shall not accomplish our end. Let us make haste before he assemble the people and tell them how we plotted against him. Then will they hate us, and we shall be driven forth from the land. Let us slay him, therefore, either in the field or by the way; and let us divide his possessions, but his house will we give to his mother and to him who shall marry her.”

Then spake Amphinomus,—not one of the suitors was of a more understanding heart than he,—“Friends, I would not that Telemachus should be slain; it is a fearful thing to slay the son of a king. First, let us ask counsel of the gods. If the oracles of Zeus approve, then will I slay him with mine own hand; but if they forbid, then I would have you refrain.”

Thereupon they departed from the place of assembly, and went to the house of Ulysses.

Now Penelope had heard from Medon, the herald, how the suitors had plotted to slay her son; therefore she went to the hall, and her maidens with her, and stood in the door, holding her veil before her face, and spake, saying:—

“Antinous, men say that thou art the best in counsel and speech of all the princes of Ithaca. But, in truth, I do find thee thus. Dost thou plot against the life of my son, having no regard for the gods, nor any memory of good deeds? Dost thou not remember how thy father fled to this house, fearing the anger of the people? Yet it is this man's house that thou dost waste, and his son that thou wouldest slay.”

But Eurymachus made answer: “Take courage, wise Penelope, and let not thy heart be troubled. The man is not, nor shall be born, who shall raise a hand against Telemachus, so long as I live upon the earth. Many a time hath Ulysses set me upon his knees, and given me roasted flesh, and held the wine-cup to my lips. Therefore Telemachus is the dearest of men to me. Fear not death for him from the suitors.”

So he spake, as if he would comfort her; but all the while he plotted the death of her son.

After this she went to her chamber, and wept for her lord till Athene dropped sweet sleep upon her eyes.

Meanwhile the swineherd went back to his home. But before he came Athene changed Ulysses again into the likeness of a beggar man, lest he should know him and tell the matter to Penelope.

Telemachus spake to him, saying: “What news is there in the city? Are the suitors come back from their ambush, or do they still watch for my ship?”

Eumaeus answered: “I did not think to go about the city asking questions; but I will tell what I know. The messenger from thy company joined himself to me, and, indeed, was the first to tell the news to the Queen. This also I know, that I saw a ship entering the harbour, and that there were many men in her, and spears, and shields. These, perchance, were the suitors, but I know not of a certainty.”

Then Telemachus looked to his father, but the swineherd's eye he shunned.