Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

How Ulysses Was Made Known

Ulysses said to his son: "Now is the time to do the thing of which I spoke to you, that you should take away the swords and spears from the hall, and lay them up in the armoury."

So Telemăchus said to the nurse: "Now shut up the maids in their rooms till I have taken away the arms from the hall and put them in the armoury. They are foul with the smoke, and it is time that they should be cleaned."

The nurse said: "I wish that all your father's goods were as well looked after. But who shall carry a light for you, if you will have none of the maids?"

Telemăchus answered: "This stranger shall do it. He has eaten my bread, and he should do some work for it."

So the nurse shut up the maids in their rooms, and Ulysses and his son set themselves to carry the arms, the spears and swords and shields, from the hall to the armoury. Nor did they need any one to light them, for Athené went before them, holding a golden lamp in her hand. No one saw her or the lamp, but the light they saw. And Telemăchus said: "This is a strange thing, father; the walls and the beams and the pillars are bright as with fire."

Now Ulysses knew that this was Athené's doing, and he said: "Say nothing, nor ask any question about it."

And when they had finished the carrying of the arms, Ulysses said to the young man: "Go now to your room and sleep; I wish to talk to your mother."

So Telemăchus went to his room and lay down to sleep, and Ulysses sat in the hall alone, thinking how he should slay the Suitors. After a while, Penelopé came down and sat by the fire. Her chair was made of silver and ivory. The maids also came down and cleared away the dishes and the cups, and put fresh logs upon the fire. Then the queen said: "Bring another chair, and a cushion, that this stranger may sit down and tell me his story." So they brought a chair and a cushion, and Ulysses sat down. Then said the queen: "Stranger, tell me who you are. What was your father's name, and from what country do you come?" Ulysses answered: "Lady, ask me what you will, but not my name or my country. To think of these brings tears to my eyes; and I would not that any one should see me weeping. They will say, 'This is a foolish fellow, or he has let the wine steal away his senses.' "

The queen said: "I too have had many sorrows and have shed many tears since the day when my husband left me, going with the Greeks to fight against the men of Troy. And now I know not what to do for the troubles that are come upon me. For the princes of this island of Ithaca, and of the other islands round about, come hither, asking me to marry. And they sit here day after day, and devour my lord's substance. And I do not know how to escape them. For three years, indeed, I put them off, for I said that I could not marry till I had woven a shroud for the old man, my husband's father. And I worked at the weaving of this in the day, and at night I undid the weaving. But one of the maids told the thing to the Suitors, and I could not help finishing the work. And now I know not what to do, for my father and mother are urgent with me that I should marry, and my son sees all his substance eaten up before his eyes, which these Suitors eat and drink in his house. Then tell me, stranger, of what race you are, for you did not come from a rock or an oak tree, as the old fables have it."

Ulysses said: "Lady, if you will know these things, I will tell you, though it grieves me to the heart. I come from a certain island that is called Crete. It is a fair land, and rich, with many people in it, and ninety cities. I was the younger son of the king, and when my father died, then my elder brother became king in his place. And when the Greeks went against the city of Troy, my brother went with them. Some ten days after he had departed there came a stranger, who said that he was Ulysses, and that he, too, was sailing for Troy, and that the winds had carried him out of his course. And he asked for my brother, who, he said, was his friend. So I gave food and wine to him and to his people. Twelve days did they stay, for the wind blew from the north and hindered their sailing; but on the thirteenth day it blew from the south, and they departed."

When the queen heard this, she was much moved, and shed many tears. Ulysses pitied her when he saw her weep, but his own eyes were dry, as hard as if they had been of horn or iron. Then Penelopé said: "Stranger, let me ask you one question, that I may be sure that this man was in very truth my husband. Tell me now what were the clothes that he wore, and whether he had any companion with him."

Now this was a hard question, for twenty years had passed since these things happened, and a man might well have forgotten what clothes a stranger had worn. And even Ulysses himself might not bear them in mind, for women remember such things more readily than do men.

The beggar said: "I remember that he had a cloak, sea-purple in colour, made of wool, and double. And I remember also that it was clasped with a brooch of gold, and that the brooch was of this pattern—a dog holding a fawn. Wonderfully wrought it was, so eager to lay hold was the dog, and so did the fawn struggle to be free. And his coat was white and smooth. But whether he had brought these things from his home, I know not. Many men gave him gifts. I myself gave him a sword and a coat. and he had a comrade with him, a herald, older than he, with curly hair and dark skin."

When Penelopé heard this, she wept aloud, for she remembered every one of these things, and knew that the beggar had indeed seen her husband. "You tell a true story, old man," she said. "These clothes that you speak of Ulysses had; I folded them with my own hands, and put them away in his baggage. They were what he would wear at feasts and the like; others he had for travelling. And the brooch with the dog and the fawn I gave him. But, alas! I shall never see him any more."

"Say not so, dear lady," said the beggar. "Do not think of Ulysses as if he were dead; he will surely come again. And, indeed, he is not far away. He is with King Pheidon, and will soon be coming back, and will bring much treasure with him, enough to make this house rich for many generations. King Pheidon showed me these things. Ulysses himself I did not see, for he had gone to inquire of the god at Dodona, where there is the sacred oak, and the god answers by the voice of the doves that roost in its branches. He went to ask—so the king told me—whether he should come back openly or secretly. But be sure, lady, that he will come, and before this month is out."

Penelopé said: "May your words be found true, old man. If these things come to pass, you shall have gifts in plenty; you shall not want any more, as long as you live. But I have many doubts. But now the maids shall make a bed for you with a mattress and blankets, so that you may sleep warmly till the morning. And they shall wash your feet."

But Ulysses said: "I thank you, lady; but I will not have my bed made with blankets and mattress. I do not care for these things. Since I left the land of Crete, I have not used them. Nor do I care for the bath. Nevertheless, if there is some old woman among your servants, some one whom you trust, she shall wash my feet, if you will."

Penelopé said: "Such an old woman there is in the house. She nursed my husband, and cared for him, and carried him in her arms, ever since he was born. She is weak with old age; still she will wash your feet."

So the queen called the nurse, and said to her: "Come, nurse, wash this stranger's feet. He is one that knows your master Ulysses."

The nurse, when she heard this queen so speak, put her hands before her face, and wept. And she said to the stranger: "Willingly will I do this, both for the queen's sake and for yours, if you bring news of my dear master. Yes, and because you are like him. Many strangers have come hither, but never saw I one that was so like Ulysses."

Ulysses said: "Say you so? 'Tis what others have said before, that Ulysses and I were much alike."

So the nurse made ready the bath; and Ulysses turned away from the fire, and sat looking into the darkness, for he feared lest when the old woman should take his leg in her hands she should find a great scar that there was on it. Now the story of how the scar came about is this:—

When Ulysses was a lad of some eighteen years, he went to Parnassus to see his mother's father, Autolycus. It was this man who had given him his name, for when he was newly born the nurse had laid him on his grandfather's knee, saying: "Give this child a name." And Autolycus had said: "Let his name be Ulysses, and when he is grown up, let him come to me, and I will give him a gift that will be worth having." So Ulysses went to see his grandfather, and he and his grandmother and their sons were very glad to see him, and they made a great feast for him. The next day they all went hunting, and Ulysses went with them. They climbed up the side of the mountain Parnassus, and the time was about sunrise. The beaters came to a glade in the forest, and the dogs went before, following a scent on which they had come, and with them came Ulysses and his uncles, the sons of Autolycus. And the dogs brought them to the lair of a wild boar. A very thick place it was, so covered that neither sun nor rain could come through, and there was a great quantity of dead leaves in it. When the boar, which was a very great beast, was roused by the baying of the dogs and by the trampling of the hunters' feet, he sprang up from his lair, and his hair bristled on his back, and his eyes shone with a very fierce light. Now Ulysses was not used to hunting of this sort, for there were no wild boars in Ithaca, and, maybe, he did not know how great was the danger. But he was a very brave lad, and very eager for praise, and he rushed in before the rest of the company, holding his spear in his hand, for he greatly wished to be the one who should kill the beast. But the boar was too quick for him, for it charged him, thrusting aside the spear, and made a great wound in his leg, just above the knee, striking him with his tusk sideways. But the bone was not touched. Nor did Ulysses fail, though, indeed, he was greatly hurt; for he stabbed the boar in the shoulder, running the spear into the beast's breast, and it fell dead on the ground. Then his uncles bound up the wound, staying the blood with such things as were used for that purpose, and also singing a song of healing. So they went back to the house; and they kept the lad till the wound was healed, and they sent him away with many splendid gifts. But the scar of the wound was left.

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


When the nurse felt the scar, she knew that the stranger was Ulysses, and she said: "O Ulysses, O my child, to think that I knew you not." And she looked towards the queen, as meaning to tell her what she had found. But Ulysses laid his hand upon her mouth, and said in a whisper: "Mother, would you be my death? I am come back after these twenty years, but no one must know till I have got all things ready."

Then the old woman held her peace. After this Penelopé talked with him again. Many things she said to him, and among them was a dream that she had dreamt. "I thought," she said, "that I saw a flock of geese in the palace, and that an eagle came into the hall and killed them all, and that I heard a voice saying: 'These geese are the Suitors, and the eagle is your husband.' "  "That," said the stranger, "is a good dream." After this she said: "To-morrow I must make my choice among the Suitors, and I have promised to bring out the great bow that was Ulysses', and he that shall draw the bow most easily, and best shoot an arrow at the mark, he shall be my husband."

"That, too, is well," answered Ulysses. "Let this trial of the bow be made at once. Truly, before one of these men shall bend the bow, Ulysses shall come back and shoot at a certain mark."