Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church


When Ulysses went away from Ithaca to fight against the Trojans, he left in charge of the swine a certain man, whose name was Eumaeus. He was a slave, but nevertheless he was a king's son, and this was how he came to be a slave. His father was king of a certain island, and he had in his household a Phoenician woman, and this woman was nurse to his son. She had been stolen away from her home by some people from Taphos—the Taphians were great stealers of men—and sold to the king. When the child was some five or six years old, there came a Phoenician ship to the island, with rings and bracelets and other fine things which women love, and the Phoenician woman, because they were from the same country, made friends with them and told her story. They said to her that they knew her father and mother, and that they were rich people, and promised, if she would come with them, to take her to her old home. Then the woman said that she would come with them. And that she might pay them for her passage, and also have something for herself, she took the little boy, the king's son, with her. Also she carried away three gold cups that were in the house. So the Phoenicians sailed away with the woman and the child. On the sixth day she died, and they threw her body overboard, and carried the child to Ithaca, where they sold him to the father of Ulysses.

And now Ulysses went to the place where this Eumaeus lived and kept the swine. There were twelve sties round a very big courtyard, and in each sty fifty swine. Also, to keep away thieves, he had four watchdogs, very large and fierce. The swineherd was in his house, making a pair of sandals; he had three men who were looking after the swine in the fields, for though he was a slave, he had other men under him; a fourth was driving a fat hog to the city, which was to be killed and cooked for the Suitors. When Ulysses came into the courtyard the four dogs ran at him. So he dropped his staff, and sat down on the ground, for dogs, they say, will not bite a man that is sitting. Yet they might have hurt him, for they were very fierce, but Eumaeus heard their barking, and came out of his house, and drove away the dogs with stones. Then he said to Ulysses: "Old man, the dogs had nearly killed you. That would have been a great grief to me, and I have grief enough already. My lord has gone away, and no one knows where he is; perhaps he is wandering about without food to eat, and others all the time are eating the fat beasts that belong to him. But come into my house, old man, and tell me your story."

So Ulysses went into the house, and the swineherd made him sit down on his own bed. There was a heap of brushwood, with the skin of a wild goat spread over it. Ulysses was glad to find him so kind, and said: "Now may the gods reward you for your kindness to a stranger!"

The swineherd answered: "It would be a wicked thing not to be kind to a stranger. But I have little to give. If my master had stayed at home, I should be better off. He would have given me a house and land and a wife. Good masters, and indeed Ulysses was a good master, give such gifts to servants who serve them well. And I have served him well. Once there was not a man in all these islands who had better flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and droves of swine than he; but of late years there has been a great waste in his house, for the princes of the island assemble in his house and eat and drink, yes, and waste in a most shameful way."

Then he went out and took a small pig from one of the sties, and prepared a meal for the stranger, and mixed wine for him in a cup made of ivywood. And Ulysses sat, and ate and drank. Not a word did he say, for he was busy thinking how he might punish the Suitors who were wasting his goods in this way.

[Illustration] from Odyssey for Boys and Girls by Alfred J. Church


At last he said: "Friend, who was this master of yours, who you say has been absent from his home so long? Perhaps I may have seen him, for I have wandered over many lands, and have seen and known many men."

Then said Eumaeus: "This is what all the travellers say, but we hear no truth from them. There is not a vagabond-fellow comes here but our queen must see him, and ask him questions about her husband, weeping all the while. And you, I dare say, for a cloak or a tunic, would tell a wonderful story of your own."

Then said the false beggar: "Listen to me: I tell you that Ulysses will return; yes, he will come before the next new moon. And you shall give me a gift such as men give to those who bring them good news. You shall give me a coat and a cloak. But, till my words are found to come true, I will take nothing from you. I hate the man who tells lies because he is poor: I would sooner die than do such a thing myself."

The swineherd answered: "Old man, you will never get the coat and the cloak from me. But don't talk about these things any more. It breaks my heart to think of my dear master. And now I am in trouble about my young master, his son. For he has gone to some strange places, hoping to get news about his father. Surely he has lost his wits to do such a thing. For the Suitors, I hear, lie in wait for him to kill him as he comes back. And so all my master's house will perish. But let these things be. Tell me now, old man, who you are, and from what country you come."

Ulysses said: "It would take a long time to tell you all my story. We might sit here, and eat and drink for a whole year, while I told you of all my adventures. But something you shall hear.

"I am a man of Crete, and my father's name was Castor. He had other sons, whose mother was a free woman; but my mother was a slave. While he lived he treated me just as he did my brothers, but when he died they gave me a very small share of his goods, and took away my home from me. Nevertheless, I did well for myself, for I was brave, and my neighbors thought well of me, so that I married a rich wife. There was not a man in the country who was fonder of fighting than I was—yes, even of taking part in an ambush, a thing which tries a man's courage more than anything else. Nine times did I go with my ship—for I had a ship and a crew of my own—on various adventures. The tenth time I went with the king of Crete to fight against the city of Troy. And when we had taken the city, I came back to the country with the king. For a month I stopped at home. And then I went to Egypt; and this time I had nine ships, for there were many who were willing to go with me. We had a fair wind, and got to our journey's end in four days. But then my men did much mischief to the people of the land, laying waste their fields, and carrying away their wives and children. And when I wished to stop them, they would not listen to me. Then the Egyptians gathered an army and came upon us. They killed many, and they took the rest prisoners. But I ran up to the king of Egypt, where he sat in his chariot, and begged him to have mercy on me. And he listened to me. So kind was he that I stayed with him for seven years, and became a rich man. Would that I had been content! But in the eighth year a Phoenician merchant came to the place, and promised me riches without end if I would go with him. So I gathered all that I had together, and went with him. For a year I stayed with him. Then he put me in his ship, meaning to take me to Africa, and to sell me there for a slave. But the ship was wrecked on the way, and I was the only one on board that was not drowned. I caught hold of the mast, and floated on it for nine days; and on the tenth I came to the country of King Pheidon. And there I heard tell of Ulysses; for the king was keeping his goods for him while he was on a journey to inquire of an oracle. From this place I took my passage in a merchant ship, but the sailors planned to sell me for a slave. So they bound me, and put me in the hold of the ship. But one day, when they were having their supper on shore, I loosed myself from my bonds, and leapt into the sea, and, swimming to land, so escaped."

Ulysses, we see, had always a tale ready. The swineherd said: "Your story makes me feel for you, for, indeed, you must have suffered much. But I don't believe what you tell me about my master, King Ulysses. All the strangers that come to this place have something to say about him; for they know that it is what we want to hear. I live here alone, and take care of the swine. But every now and then the queen sends for me, saying that some one has come bringing news of the king. So I go, and I find the man, with a crowd of people round him asking him questions. Some of them really wish that the king would come home, but there are many who hope that he has perished, because they sit here idle and waste his goods. But I am not one of those who ask questions; I never have done it since a certain Aetolian cheated me with the story that he told. He had killed a man, he said, and had been obliged to leave his home, and I treated him kindly, and gave him the best that I had. And the fellow told me that he had seen my master with the king of Crete, and that he was then busy mending his ships, which had been damaged by a storm. He would come back, the fellow said, at the beginning of summer, or, at the latest, at harvest time, and would bring great riches with him. So, old man, do not try to please me with idle tales about Ulysses. I pity you, and try to help you because you are poor, but I wish to hear no lies about my master."

"Well," said Ulysses, "you are very slow to believe. But now listen to me; if your master comes back, as I say he will, then you shall give me a coat and a cloak. And if he does not come back, then your men may throw me down from a rock into the sea, as a warning to others that they should not tell false tales."

The swineherd said: "This is idle talk. What good would it do me to kill you? What would people say of me, if I took a stranger into my home, and then slew him? How should I ever pray to the gods again, if I had done such a thing? But enough of this. It is supper time, and I wish that my men had come back that we might sup together."

While he was speaking the men came back. And the swineherd said to them: "Fetch a fat pig from the sty, for I have a stranger here, and I should like to give him a good meal."

So they fetched a five-year-old hog, and they dressed the meat for their supper. And the swineherd gave to Ulysses the chine, for this was the best portion.

Now it was a very cold night, and it rained without ceasing, for the wind was blowing from the west, and this commonly brings rain in those parts. And after supper Ulysses thought he would try his host, to see what he would do; so he told this story:—

"A certain night when we were fighting against Troy, we laid our ambush near the city. MenelaŘs and Ulysses and I were the leaders of it. We sat hidden in the reeds, and the night was cold, so that the snow lay upon our shields. Now all the others had their cloaks, but I had left mine in my tent. When the night was three parts spent, I said to Ulysses, who lay close by me: 'Here I am—I, without a cloak. I a leader, to perish of cold!' Now Ulysses was always ready, knowing what to do. 'Hush!' he said, 'lest some one should hear you.' Then he said to the others: 'I have had a dream, which makes me sure that we are in danger. We are a long way from the ships, and these are too far off us. Let some one run to King Agamemnon, and ask him to send us more men.' Then Thuas stood up, and said, 'I will run and tell him,' and he threw off his cloak, and ran. And I took the cloak, and slept warmly in it."

The swineherd said: "Old man, that is a good tale. And to-night, too, you shall have a cloak to keep you from the cold. But to-morrow you must put on your old rags again!" And he gave him his own cloak.