Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

How Telemăchus Went to Look for His Father

The next day, as soon as it was light, Telemăchus sent the officers to call the people to the Assembly. And when the people heard the call, they came quickly, for such a thing had not happened now for many years. And, when they were all gathered together, Telemăchus himself went, holding a spear in his hand, and with two dogs at his heels. And when he sat down in his father's place all who were there wondered to see him, for he looked not like the boy but like a man.

The first that stood up in the Assembly was a certain old man, Aegyptus by name—very old he was, so that he was almost bent double, and he was very wise. He had four sons, but one was dead, for he had gone with Ulysses to Troy, and had died, with the rest of Ulysses' companions, on his way back, as has been told. Another son was one of the Suitors; and two were with their father, working on the farm. Aegyptus said: "Listen to me, men of Ithaca! who has called us together to-day? Is it Telemăchus who has done this? If it is he, what does he want? Has he heard anything of his father, and of the men who went with him to fight against Troy?"

Then Telemăchus stood up in his place and said: "Men of Ithaca, I am in great trouble. First, I fear that my father is dead, and you, who all loved him, feel for me. And then there have come men from all the islands round about, making suit to my mother, and while they wait they devour my substance. But my mother will not listen to any one of them, for she still believes that her husband will come back. Yes; they waste all that I have, and I cannot hinder them from doing it."

And he dashed his spear on the ground, and sat down weeping. Then one of the Suitors, Antinoüs by name, stood up and said: "Telemăchus, do not blame us, but blame your mother. Surely there never was so crafty a woman." And he told the people the story of the web, how she wove it by day and unwove it by night. "Do not let her put us off any longer. Make her choose one of us and marry him. But till you do this, we will not leave your house."

Then said Telemăchus: "How could I do this to my own mother? It would be against my duty as a son. And besides, I should have to pay a great sum of money to her father, all the dowry that she brought with her. No; I cannot do this thing."

And when he had ended his speech there happened a strange thing. Two eagles were seen high up in the air, which flew along till they came to the place where the Assembly was. Then they fought together, and tore from each other many feathers.

Then said a certain man who knew what such things meant: "Beware, ye Suitors; great trouble is coming to you and to others. As for Ulysses, he said that he should come back to Ithaca in the twentieth year after his going, and that, I verily believe, he will do."

Then Telemăchus spake again: "Give me a ship with twenty rowers, and I will go to the mainland, to certain kings who went to Troy with my father, as Nestor and Menelaüs. And if I hear that he is dead, I will come back, and make a great mound for him that will keep his name in remembrance, and I will also make my mother choose another husband."

Then stood up one Mentor, whom Ulysses had made steward of his house when he went away, and said: "I am ashamed of this people of Ithaca. There is not one of them who remembers Ulysses, and yet he was as gentle as a father with them. Let no king henceforth be gentle and kind. Let him rather be a hard man and unrighteous, for then his people will remember him. See, now, these Suitors, how they are bent on doing evil. Well, I will not hinder them. They will have to suffer for what they do. But the people I blame. See, now, how they sit without saying a word, when they ought to cry shame upon the Suitors; and yet they are many in number and the Suitors are few."

Then stood up one of the Suitors, and said: "Surely, Mentor, your wits are wandering, when you bid the people put us down by force. They could not do it. And if Ulysses himself came back, he could not do it. He would come to a bad end if he fought with us, for we are many in number. And as for the ship and the twenty rowers that Telemăchus asks for, let Mentor find them for him. As for me, I do not think that he will be able to do it."

Then the Assembly was dismissed. And Telemăchus went down to the sea-shore; and after he had washed his hands in the sea, he prayed to Athené, saying: "Hear me, O goddess, thou didst bid me yesterday take a ship and rowers and ask about my father—yes, it was thou, though it seemed as if King Mentes was speaking to me—but the Suitors hinder me, and the people will not help. I pray thee, therefore, to put it into my heart what I should do."

And while he was yet speaking, Athené stood before him, and she had taken the shape of Mentor the steward. She said: "Be brave; you have spirit and wit; and are, I take it, a true son of your father and mother. Go now on this journey, for I trust that it will turn out to your profit. As for the Suitors, take no thought about them; they speak folly, and do not know the doom that is coming upon them. Make ready provisions for a journey, wine and meat; meanwhile I will collect men who will offer of their own free will to go with you, and I will also find a ship, the best in all Ithaca."

So Telemăchus went back to the palace, and he found the Suitors flaying goats and singeing swine for their dinner. And Antinoüs caught him by the hand, and said: "Come now, Telemăchus; eat and drink with us, and we will find a ship and rowers for you, that you may be able to go whither you will, and ask after your father." But Telemăchus said: "Do you think that I will eat and drink with you, who are wasting my substance in this shameful fashion? Be sure that I will have my revenge on you. And if you will not let me have a ship of my own, then I will sail in another man's." And another of the Suitors said: "What now will Telemăchus do? Will he get men from Pylos, where old Nestor lives, or from Sparta, where King Menelaüs is, to fight against us? Or, maybe, he will put poison in our wine, and so destroy us."

And another said: "What if he should perish himself as his father has perished? It would be a great business dividing his property. As for his house, we would give it to his mother and the man whom she may choose for her husband?"

So they made sport of him. But he went to the store-room of the palace, where there were laid up casks of old wine, and olive oil, and clothing, and plates of gold and silver and copper. All these things were in the charge of his nurse Eurycleia. Telemăchus said to her: "Look out for me twelve jars of wine, not the best, but the second best, and twenty measures of barley meal. I will come for them to-night when my mother is asleep, for I am going to Pylos and to Sparta, to see whether I can hear anything about my father."

But the old woman cried out: "Oh, my son, why will you travel abroad, you an only son? Your father has perished; will you perish also? These wicked men, the Suitors, will plot against you and kill you. Surely it would be better to sit quietly at home."

Telemăchus said: "Mother, I must go, for it is the gods that bid me. Swear now that you will say nothing to my mother about it for ten or twelve days, unless, indeed, she should ask you about me: then you must say for what I am gone."

So the old woman sware that she would say nothing. And Telemăchus went among the Suitors, and behaved as if he had nothing on his mind. Meanwhile Athené, in Mentor's shape, had got a crew of sailors together, persuading them to go as no man could have persuaded them. And she borrowed a ship, for no man could refuse to lend her what she asked for. And lest the Suitors should come to know of what was going on, she caused a deep sleep to fall upon them. They slept each man in his chair. And then she came to the palace, and she still had the shape of Mentor, and called Telemăchus out, saying to him, "The rowers are ready: let us go."

So the two went down to the shore, and found the ship, and the ship's crew ready to go on board. And Telemăchus said: "Come now, my friends, to my room at the palace, for there I have stored away the meat and the drink that we want for the voyage. One woman only knows about the matter; not my mother, nor any of her maids, but only my old nurse."

So they went up to the palace, and carried all the provisions themselves to the shore, and stowed it away in the ship. And Telemăchus went on board, and sat down on the stern, and Mentor, that was really Athené, sat down by him. And he told the sailors to make ready to start.

First, they pushed off the ship from the shore. Then they raised the mast, which was made of a pine tree, and lay along the deck in a kind of crutch that was made for it. A hole was ready in which to put the end. So the men raised it, and made it fast with ropes on both sides. And they hauled up the sail with ropes made of ox hide. And the wind filled the sail, and the ship went quickly through the water, the sea bubbling and foaming about it as it went, and Telemăchus poured wine out of a bowl, praying to the god of the sea, and to Zeus that he might have a prosperous voyage. So all the night the ship sped along till the dawn began to show in the east.