Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

How Telemachus Saw Nestor

At sunrise the ship came to Pylos, which was on the west coast of the Island of Pelops. Here Nestor was king. He was the oldest man in the world. He had ruled over three generations of men, that is, for ninety years and more, and he was still hearty and strong. Now it so happened that on this day the people were offering a sacrifice to the god of the sea, whose name was Poseidon. There were nine companies of men, and in each there were five hundred, and each five hundred sacrificed nine bulls. They had finished the sacrifice, and were beginning the feast, for there was always a feast after the sacrifice, when Telemăchus and his men moored the ship on the shore and landed. Then said Athené to the young man: "Go, and speak to the old King Nestor. There is no need for you to be ashamed. You have come to get news of your father, if such can be got. Go boldly, therefore, and ask him if he can tell you anything."

But Telemăchus said: "How can I speak to him, for I am young and ignorant?"

"Nay," said the goddess, "think of something yourself, and the gods will put what may be wanting into your mouth."

So she led the way, being, as before in the shape of Mentor, to where Nestor sat with his sons and a great company about him, ready to begin the feast. And when the men of Pylos saw the strangers they shook their hands, and made them sit down on soft fleeces of wool that had been laid down on the shore for seats. And Nestor's youngest son brought them some of the best of the flesh, and wine in a golden cup. The cup he gave first to Mentor, judging him to be the elder of the two, saying to him: "Pray now to the god of the sea, and pour out some of the wine as an offering, and when you have done so, give the cup to your friend, that he may do the same."

So Mentor took the cup and prayed to the god of the sea, saying: "Give renown to Nestor and his sons, and make such a return to the men of Pylos as is their due for this great sacrifice, and grant to us that we may accomplish that for which we have come hither."

And when he had said these words he poured out some of the wine on the sand. Then he passed the cup to Telemăchus, and he also said the same words and poured out some of the wine.

When they had eaten and drunk as much as they desired, Nestor said to them: "Strangers, who are you, and what is your business? Are you traders that sail over the seas to buy and sell in foreign lands, or are you pirates?"

Telemăchus answered, Athené putting into his heart what he should say: "We come from Ithaca, and we are neither traders nor pirates. I seek for news of my father, who in time past fought by your side, and helped you to take the city of Troy. Now we know about all the other chiefs who fought against Troy, how some came back safe to their homes, and some perished. But of Ulysses, my father, no man knows anything, whether he be alive or dead. For this reason I am come to you. It may be that you saw his death with your own eyes, or that you have heard of it from another that saw it. Speak no smooth words, I pray you, for pity's sake, but tell me plainly what you have seen or heard."

Nestor answered: "Ah me! you bring back to my mind old things, old troubles that we bore when we fought against the great city of Priam. There the best of us were slain. There lies the mighty Ajax—Ajax of the great shield which no one but he could carry. There also lies Achilles, the greatest of all the Greeks. No one was so swift of foot as he, and he had a spear which no one but he could throw. There, also, lies my own dear son, Antilochus. But who could tell the tale of all that we suffered? For nine years we fought against the city, and your father was always the wisest of us; no man gave such counsel as did he, and truly you are like him; when you speak I seem to be hearing him. But now I will tell you what I know. When at last, in the tenth year, Troy was taken, then there came fresh trouble upon us. For there were some who were not just or prudent, and they made the gods angry by their evil doings. First, there was a quarrel between Agamemnon and his brother Menelaüs. Menelaüs was for going back home without delay, but Agamemnon thought that the Greeks should stay awhile and make a great sacrifice to Athené, for he feared that she was angry with the people. So they called the people to an Assembly, and there was much talking and disputing, some crying out one thing and some another. The next day I and the others that held with Menelaüs launched our ships, and put into them all our goods, and all the spoil that we had taken out of Troy, and so set sail. With us there was one half of the people, and the other half stayed behind with King Agamemnon. But when we had gone but a little there was another division, for your father, Ulysses, went back to Troy, and others went with him. But I knew in my heart that the gods were angry with us, for it was they who had caused this strife and division among us. So I went on my way; so did the brave Diomed, and so did Menelaüs; straight across the sea we sailed. And on the fourth day Diomed came safely to his city of Argos, and I went on to my own city of Pylos here, and reached it without suffering loss or harm. You see, therefore, that I cannot speak of my own knowledge as to what happened to other chiefs. But I will tell you all the news that I have heard here since then. The people of Achilles came safe to their home, his son leading them, and Philoctetes came safe, and Agamemnon came safe—but, alas! a wicked woman slew him. But as for Ulysses, I have told you all I know."

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


Then said Telemăchus: "Tell me now about Menelaüs. Did he also come safely to his home?"

Nestor answered: "Yes, he, too, came safely, but after a long time. He and I sailed together across the sea, and came without loss to a certain cape which is near to the city of Athens. There his pilot died, and he could not but stay awhile, though he greatly wished to get home, for the man was dear to him, and he must needs give him an honourable burial. But when he had done this and had set sail again, a great storm arose, and his fleet was divided. Some of the ships were driven ashore at the Island of Crete and were wrecked, the men barely escaping with their lives. As for Menelaüs, he was driven eastward by the wind to Egypt, he and five ships with him—five ships out of sixty, you must know, for he had sixty ships when he came to Troy. For seven years he wandered about in those parts, and in the beginning of the eighth year he came back, bringing much gold and other precious things with him in his ship. And now, my son, my advice to you is this: do not wander about looking for your father. You will only waste your goods by so doing. But go to Menelaüs, where he lives in his own city of Sparta, and ask him to tell whether he has seen or heard anything about your father. You see that he has but lately come back after many wanderings, and if there is anything to be heard about your father, it has doubtless come to his ears. You can go in your ship, if you will. But there are many miles between Sparta and the sea, so that you would do better to go in a chariot. This I will provide for you, and horses to draw it, and one of my sons to be your guide."

By this time it was near to sunset, and Mentor said to Telemăchus: "Come now, let us go back to our ship that we may sleep there." But Nestor, when he heard this, said: "Not so, my friends; the gods forbid that you should sleep in your ship when my house is near at hand. I am no needy man who cannot find rugs and mats and clothing enough for my guests that they may lie soft and warm. No, no! I have enough of these. Never shall the son of my old friend Ulysses sleep on the deck of his ship while I have my hall, or while my son after me shall have a hall in which to shelter him."

Then Mentor spoke: "This is well said, my father. Telemăchus shall sleep in your house, and I will go back to the ship and cheer the men, for they will wish to know how their young master has fared. Besides, I have business on hand which I must do a debt, among other things, which I must needs collect, for it is large and has been a long time owing."

When he had finished speaking, the man Mentor, for such they thought him to be, was changed into the shape of an eagle of the sea in the sight of all the company, and they were astonished to see it. And old Nestor took Telemăchus by the hand and said: "Truly you are no weakling, for I see that young as you are the gods have a favour for you. This is none other than Athené; she was always helping your father when he was at Troy."

Then the old man led the company to his house, and bade them sit down. And he mixed for them a bowl of old wine. The wine was eleven years old, and he shredded on it goats' milk cheese, and sprinkled also barley meal, and when they had drunk as much as they desired, they lay down to sleep. Telemăchus slept on a bed beneath the gallery of the house, and Nestor's youngest son slept on a bed close by; to take care that he should not suffer any harm.

The next day, as soon as it was light, Nestor rose and called his sons. One he sent to fetch a heifer from the plain, and another he told to go to the ship and bring all the crew up to the palace, leaving two only to take care of it. And a third fetched the goldsmith that he might gild the horns of the heifer. Meanwhile the maids made everything ready for a feast. So Nestor sacrificed the heifer, and the company feasted on the flesh. As for Telemăchus, he sat by Nestor's side, and he had put on a handsome tunic and a mantle over the tunic, which Nestor's youngest daughter had made ready for him.

When they had finished their meal, Nestor said: "Harness the horses to the chariot, and let Telemăchus start on his journey."

So they harnessed the horses, and the housekeeper put food and wine, such as princes eat and drink, into the chariot, and Nestor's youngest son took the reins in his hand, and Telemăchus rode with him. That day they travelled as far as the town of Pherae. There they stopped for the night with the king of the place. And the next day they came to Sparta, where Menelaüs lived.