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CHAPTER XXIV. THE TRIUMPH OF ULYSSES

Meanwhile, Ulysses went forth from his palace to the dwelling of Laertes, that was in the fields. There the old man dwelt, and a woman of Sicily cared for him. And Ulysses spake to his son and to the shepherds, saying: “Go ye into the house and prepare a meal of swine's flesh, as savoury as may be; and I will make trial of my father, whether he will know me. For it may well be that he hath forgotten me, seeing that I have been now a long time absent.”

So spake Ulysses, and gave also his arms to the men to keep for him. So they went into the house. And Ulysses went to the orchard, making search for his father. There he found not Dolius [Footnote: Do'-li-us.], that was steward to Laertes, nor any one of his servants, nor of his sons, for they were gone to make a fence about the field. Only the old man he found; and he was busy digging about a tree. Filthy was the tunic that he had about him and sewn with thread; and he had coverings of ox-hide on his legs to keep them from the thorns, and gloves upon his hands, and a cap of dog-skin on his head. And when Ulysses saw him, how that he was worn with old age and very sorrowful, he stood under a pear tree and wept. Then for awhile he took counsel with himself, whether he should kiss his father and embrace him, and make himself known, and tell him how he had come back to his home, or should first inquire of him, and learn all that he would know. And he judged it best first to inquire. So he came near to the old man; and the old man was digging about a tree, having his head bent down.

Then said Ulysses: “Verily, old man, thou lackest not skill to deal with an orchard. And truly, neither fig, nor vine, nor olive, nor pear may flourish in a garden without care. But yet another thing will I say to thee, and be not thou wroth when thou hearest it. Thy garden, indeed, is well cared for, but thou thyself art in evil plight. For old age lieth heavy upon thee, and thou art clad in filthy garments. Yet truly it is not because thou art idle that thy master thus dealeth with thee; nor, indeed, art thou in any wise like unto a slave; for thy face and thy stature are as it might be of a king. Such an one as thou art should wash himself, and sit down to meat, and sleep softly; for such is the right of old age. But come, tell me truly, whose servant art thou? Whose orchard dost thou tend? Tell me this also: is this, indeed, the land of Ithaca to which I am come? This, indeed, a certain man that I met as I came hither told me, but he seemed to be but of simple mind, nor would he listen to my words, nor tell me of a friend that I have who dwelleth in this place, whether he be alive or dead. I entertained him a long time since in my house, and never was there stranger whom I loved more than him. And he said that he was the son of Laertes, and that he came from the land of Ithaca.”

To him Laertes made answer, weeping the while: “Doubt not, stranger, that thou art come to the land of which thou inquirest. But unrighteous and violent men have it in possession. But as for the son of Laertes, hadst thou found him here, verily, he would have sent thee away with many gifts. But tell me truly, is it long time since thou didst give him entertainment? For, indeed, he is my son, unhappy man that I am. Surely either he hath been drowned in the sea, and the fishes have devoured him, or wild beasts and birds of the air have eaten him upon the land. And neither father nor mother, nor his wife, Penelope, most prudent of women, could make lamentation for him and lay him out for his burial. But tell me, who art thou? Where is thy city, and what thy parentage? Did thine own ship bring thee hither, and thy companions with thee, or didst thou come as a trader upon the ship of another?”

Then said Ulysses: “All this I will tell thee truly. My name is Eperitus.[Footnote: E-per'-i-tus.] It was of the doing of the gods that I came hither from the land of Sicily, and not of mine own will. And my ship is moored hard by. As for Ulysses, it is now the fifth year since he left me. Yet verily, the omens were good when he went forth on his journey, so that we both rejoiced, thinking that he would journey safely, and that we should be friends the one to the other in the time to come.”

So spake Ulysses; and when the old man, his father, heard these words, great grief came upon him, and he took up the dust in his hands and poured it upon the white hairs of his head. And the heart of Ulysses was moved within him as he saw it, and he was ready to weep when he beheld his father. Then he threw his arms about him and kissed him, and said: “My father, here am I, thy son for whom thou weepest. Lo! I am come back to my native country after twenty years, and I have avenged myself on them that sought my wife in marriage, slaying them all.”

To him the old man made answer, “If thou art my very son Ulysses, tell me some clear sign whereby I may know thee.”

Then said Ulysses: “See, now, this scar upon my thigh where the wild boar wounded me on Mount Parnassus.[Footnote: Par nas'-sus.] For thou and my mother sent me to my grandfather, and I was wounded in the hunting. And let this also be a sign to thee. I will tell thee what trees of the orchard thou gavest me long since, when I was a boy and walked with thee, inquiring of thee their names. Thirteen pear trees didst thou give me, and ten apple trees, and of fig trees two score. Fifty rows also of vines didst thou promise to give me when the time of grapes should come.”

And the old man's heart was moved within him, and his knees failed him, for he knew that the signs were true. And he threw his arms about his son, and the spirit of the old man revived, and he said: “Now I know that there are gods in heaven when I hear that these evil men have been punished for their wrong-doing. Nevertheless, I fear much lest their kinsmen shall stir up the men of Ithaca and of the islands round about against us.”

Then said Ulysses: “Trouble not thyself with these matters, my father. Let us go rather to the house. There are Telemachus and Eumaeus, and the keeper of the herds, and they have made ready, that we may dine.”

So they went to the house, and found Telemachus and his companions cutting flesh for the dinner and mixing the wine. Then the woman of Sicily washed the old man Laertes and anointed him with oil, and clad him in a fair cloak. And Athene also stood by him, and made him taller and sturdier to look on than before. And his son marvelled to behold him, so fair he was and like to the gods that live forever, so that he spake to him, saying, “O my father, surely one of the gods that live forever hath made thee fair to look upon and tall!”

And Laertes made answer: “Would to God that I had stood by you yesterday, taking vengeance on the suitors, with the strength I had of old. Many a man would I have slain with my spear, and thou wouldest have rejoiced in thy heart.”

Thus spake they together. And when the dinner was ready they sat down to meat; and the old man Dolius, with his sons, approached, coming in from their labour; for the woman of Sicily, that was the mother of the lads, had called them. And when they saw Ulysses, they stood amazed and speechless. And Ulysses said, “Cease to wonder, old man, at this sight, and sit down to meat; truly we are ready for our meat, and have waited long time for you.”

Then Dolius ran to him, stretching forth both his hands, and caught the hand of Ulysses and kissed it on the wrist. And he spake, saying: “Right glad are we at thy coming, for we looked not for thee. Surely it is of the gods that thou hast returned. May all things be well with thee. But tell me this. Knoweth Queen Penelope of thy coming, or shall I send a messenger to tell her?”

“Verily, she knoweth it,” said Ulysses. Then the old man sat down to meat, and his sons also, when they had greeted Ulysses.

In the meanwhile there spread through the city the tidings how the suitors had been slain; and the kindred of the men came to the house of Ulysses with many groans and tears, and carried away the dead bodies and buried them. But such as came from other lands they put on shipboard, that they might carry them to the sepulchres of their fathers. And when these things were ended they gathered themselves together in the marketplace; and Eupeithes [Footnote: Eu-pei'-thes.] stood up amongst them, being sore troubled in his heart for his son Antinous, whom Ulysses had slain first of all the suitors. He stood up, therefore, in the midst, and spake: “Surely this man hath wrought great evils in this land. First he took comrades with him to Troy, many in number and brave. These all he lost, and their ships also. And now he hath come hither and slain the princes of the people. Shame it were to us, yea, among the generations to come, if we avenge not ourselves on them that have slain our sons and our brothers. Verily, I desire not life, if such should go unpunished. Come, therefore, let us make haste, lest they cross over the sea and so escape.”

So Eupeithes spake, weeping the while. And all the people had pity to hear him. But Medon, the herald, stood up in the assembly and spake, saying: “Hear me, men of Ithaca! Verily, Ulysses did not all these things without the helping of the gods that live forever. I, indeed, saw with mine own eyes one of the gods standing by Ulysses, being like to Prince Mentor in shape. By Ulysses there stood a god, and strengthened him; and another was there among the suitors, troubling them so that they fell.”

Thus spake Medon, the herald, and after him stood up Alitherses [Footnote: A-li-ther'-ses.], the seer, that knew all things that had been and should be hereafter, and spake, saying: “It is of your folly, ye men of Ithaca, that all these things have come to pass. Ye would not hearken to me, no, nor to Mentor, nor would ye restrain your sons from their folly. Great wickedness did they work, wasting the goods of a brave man, and making suit to his wife, for they thought not that he would return. Come now, hearken unto me, lest some worse evil befall you.”

Then some indeed rose up and made haste to depart; and these were the greater part; but the others remained in their places, for they liked not the counsel of Medon and the seer, but regarded the words of Eupeithes. Then they clad themselves in their armour and marched to the city, Eupeithes leading them.

Then spake Athene to Zeus: “Tell me, my father, what dost thou purpose in thy heart? Wilt thou that there be strife or friendship between these two?”

To her Zeus made answer: “Why dost thou inquire this thing of me? Was it not of thy contriving that Ulysses slew the suitors in his palace? Order it as thou wilt. But let there be peace and friendship in the end, that Ulysses may prosper in the land, and the people dwell in happiness about him.”

Then Athene departed, and came to the land of Ithaca.

And when Ulysses and they that sat with him had made an end of eating and drinking, the King said, “Let some one go forth and see whether these men are near at hand.”

So the son of Dolius went forth. And as he stood on the threshold he saw them approaching, and cried: “They are even now close at hand; let us arm ourselves in all haste.”

So they armed themselves. With Ulysses were Telemachus, and Eumaeus, and the keeper of the herds. Also there stood with him six sons of Dolius; and the two old men also, Laertes and Dolius, though their heads were white with age. And as they went forth from the house Athene came near, having the form and the voice of Prince Mentor. And when Ulysses saw her, he was glad at heart, and spake to Telemachus, saying, “I know thee well, my son, that thou wilt bear thyself bravely, and do no dishonour to the house of thy fathers, that have ever been famous in the land for courage and manhood.”

Telemachus answered, “This, my father, thou shalt see for thyself, if thou wilt.”

And Laertes was glad at heart, and said, “How happy is this day, in the which my son and my grandson contend one with the other in valour.”

Then Athene came near to the old man, and said, “Laertes, pray thou first to Athene and Father Zeus, and then cast thy spear.”

So she spake, and breathed great strength into his heart. And having prayed, he cast his spear, and smote Eupeithes through the helmet, so that he fell dead upon the ground. Then Ulysses and his son fell upon the men of Ithaca with swords and two-handed spears. Verily, they had slain them all, but that Athene cried aloud, saying: “Cease, men of Ithaca, from the battle, for it is too hard for you.”

And the men were sore afraid when they heard her voice, and threw their arms upon the ground and fled, if haply they might escape to the city. And when Ulysses would have pursued after them, Zeus cast a thunderbolt from heaven, so that it fell before the feet of Athene. And Athene cried, “Cease from the battle, son of Laertes, lest Zeus be wroth with thee.”

So Ulysses was stayed from the battle; and Zeus and Athene made peace between the King and the men of Ithaca.