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CHAPTER XVIII. ULYSSES IN HIS HOME

When the morning came, Telemachus said to the swineherd: “I go to the city, for my mother will not be satisfied till she see my very face. And do thou lead this stranger to the city, that he may there beg his bread from any that may have the mind to give.”

Thereupon Ulysses spake, saying, “I too, my friend, like not to be left here. It is better for a man to beg his bread in the town than in the fields. Go thou, and I will follow, so soon as the sun shall wax hot, for my garments are exceeding poor, and I fear lest the cold overcome me.”

So Telemachus went his way, devising evil against the suitors all the while. And when he came to the house his nurse Eurycleia saw him first, and kissed him. Penelope also came down from her chamber, and cast her arms about him, and kissed him on the face, and on both the eyes, and spake, saying: “Thou art come, Telemachus, light of mine eyes! I thought not ever to see thee again. But tell me, what news didst thou get of thy father?”

And Telemachus related what Nestor and Menelaus had told him.

Meanwhile the suitors were disporting themselves, casting weights and aiming with spears in a level place. And when it was the time for supper, Medon, the herald, said, “Come now, let us sup; meat in season is a good thing.”

So they made ready a feast.

Now in the meanwhile Eumaeus and the false beggar were coming to the city. And when they were now near to it, Melanthius [Footnote: Me-lan'-thi-us.], the goatherd, met them, and spake evil to Eumaeus, rebuking him because he brought this beggar to the city. And he came near and smote Ulysses with his foot on the thigh, but moved him not from the path. And Ulysses thought awhile, should he smite him with his club and slay him, or dash him on the ground. But it seemed to him better to endure.

So they went on to the palace. And at the door of the court there lay the dog Argus, whom in the old days Ulysses had reared with his own hand. But ere the dog grew to his full, Ulysses had sailed to Troy. And while he was strong, men used him in the chase, hunting wild goats and roe-deer and hares. But now he lay on a dunghill, and vermin swarmed upon him. Well he knew his master, and, although he could not come near to him, he wagged his tail and drooped his ears.

And Ulysses, when he saw him, wiped away a tear, and said, “Surely this is strange, Eumaeus, that such a dog of so fine a breed should lie here upon a dunghill.”

And Eumaeus made reply: “He belongeth to a master who died far away. For, indeed, when Ulysses had him of old, he was the strongest and swiftest of dogs; but now my dear lord has perished far away, and the careless women tend him not. For when the master is away the slaves are careless of their duty. Surely a man, when he is made a slave, loses half the virtue of a man.”

And as he spake the dog Argus died. Twenty years had he waited, and saw his master at the last. After this the two entered the hall. And Telemachus, when he saw them, took from the basket bread and meat, as much as his hands could hold, and bade carry them to the beggar, and also to tell him that he might go round among the suitors, asking alms. So he went, stretching out his hand, as though he were wont to beg; and some gave, having compassion upon him, and some asked who he was. But of all, Antinous was the most shameless. For when Ulysses came to him and told him how he had had much riches and power in former days, and how he had gone to Egypt, and had been sold a slave into Cyprus, Antinous mocked him, saying:—

“Get thee from my table, or thou shalt find a worse Egypt and a harder Cyprus than before.”

Then Ulysses said, “Surely thy soul is evil though thy body is fair; for though thou sittest at another man's feast, yet wilt thou give me nothing.”

Then Antinous caught up the footstool that was under his feet, and smote Ulysses therewith. But he stood firm as a rock; and in his heart he thought on revenge. So he went and sat down at the door. And being there, he said:—

“Hear me, suitors of the Queen! Antinous has smitten me because that I am poor. May the curse of the hungry light on him therefor, ere he come to his marriage day!”

Then spake Antinous, “Sit thou still, stranger, and eat thy bread in silence, lest the young men drag thee from the house, or strip thy flesh from off thy bones.”

So he spake in his insolence; but the others blamed him, saying: “Antinous, thou didst ill to smite the wanderer; there is a doom on such deeds, if there be any god in heaven. Verily, the gods oft times put on the shape of men, and go through cities, spying out whether there is righteous dealing or unrighteous among them.”

But Antinous heeded not. As for Telemachus, he nursed a great sorrow in his heart to see his father so smitten; yet he shed not a tear, but sat in silence, meditating evil against the suitors.

When Penelope also heard how the stranger had been smitten in the hall, she spake to her maidens, saying, “So may Apollo, the archer, smite Antinous!”

Then Eurynome [Footnote: Eu-ryn'-o-me.], that kept the house, made answer: “O that our prayers might be fulfilled! Surely not one of these evil men should see another day.”

To her replied Penelope: “Yea, nurse, all are enemies, but Antinous is the worst. Verily, he is as hateful as death.”

Then Penelope called to the swineherd and said: “Go now, and bring this stranger to me; I would greet him, and inquire of him whether he has heard tidings of Ulysses, or, it may be, seen him with his eyes, for he seems to have wandered far.”

Eumaeus made answer: “Truly this man will charm thy heart, O Queen! Three days did I keep him in my dwelling, and he never ceased from telling of his sorrows. As a singer of beautiful songs charmeth men, so did he charm me. He saith that he is a Cretan, and that he hath heard of Ulysses, that he is yet alive, and that he is bringing much wealth to his home.”

Then said Penelope: “Go, call the man, that I may speak with him. O that Ulysses would indeed return! Soon would he and his son avenge them of these men, for all the wrong that they have done!”

And as she spake, Telemachus sneezed, and all the house rang with the noise. And Penelope said again to Eumaeus: “Call now this stranger; didst thou not mark the good omen, how my son sneezed when I spake? Verily, this vengeance shall be wrought, nor shall one escape from it. And as for this stranger, if I shall perceive that he hath spoken truth, I will give him a new mantle and tunic.”

So the swineherd spake to the stranger, saying: “Penelope would speak with thee, and would inquire concerning her husband. And if she find that thou hast spoken truth, she will give thee a mantle and a tunic, and thou shalt have freedom to beg throughout the land.”

But the false beggar said: “Gladly would I tell to Penelope the story of her husband, for I know him well. But I fear these suitors. Even now, when this man struck me, and for naught, none hindered the blow, no, not Telemachus himself. Go, therefore, and bid the Queen wait till the setting of the sun.”

So the swineherd went, and as he crossed the threshold Penelope said: “Thou bringest him not! What meaneth the wanderer? A beggar that is shamefaced knoweth his trade but ill.”

But the swineherd answered: “He doeth well, O lady, in that he fearest the wrong-doing of these insolent men. He would have thee wait till the setting of the sun, and indeed it is better for thee to have speech with him alone.”

Then said Penelope: “It is well; the stranger is a man of understanding. Verily, these men are insolent above all others.”

Then the swineherd went into the throng of the suitors, and spake to Telemachus, holding his head close that none should hear: “I go to see after matters at the farm. Take thou heed of what befalleth here. Many of the people have ill-will against us. May Zeus confound them!”

Telemachus made answer, “Go, as thou sayest and come again in the morning, bringing beasts for sacrifice.”

So the swineherd departed; and the suitors made merry in the hall.