Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

Ulysses among the Phaeacians

The next day the Assembly of the people was held. Many came to it, so that the king's hall was filled from one end to the other. For Athené had taken upon her the shape of the king's herald, and gone through the city, saying: "Come, captains and counsellors of the Phaeacians, and hear about this stranger who has lately come to the king's palace." So they came, and they marvelled much when they saw Ulysses, for Athené had made him fairer and fatter and stronger.

The king rose in his place, and said: "This stranger has come to my hall. I do not know who he is, or whence he comes, whether from the east or the west. And he begs us to convey him safely to his home. Now this, as you know, is a thing that we have been used from old time to do for strangers. Go, then, and choose out a ship. Let it be new—one that never has been on the sea before. And pick out fifty and two rowers. Let them be the best and strongest that there are in the country. When you have done this, come to my hall and feast. And let the minstrel come also, for the gods have given him the gift of song, and there is nothing better than song to make glad the hearts of men." So the chiefs of the people went and did as the king commanded. They chose a ship, and they chose rowers, and moored the ship by the shore. This done, they went back to the king's hall. And he had bidden his servants prepare a great feast for them, eight swine and twelve sheep and two oxen.

And when the people were ready to begin, there came two servants of the king leading the singer by the hand, for he was blind. They made him sit down in a silver chair in the middle of the hall; they hung his harp on a rail that there was above his head where he could easily reach it. And by his side they put a table, and on the table a basket full of good things, and a cup of wine so that he might drink when he pleased.

Then the people began to eat and drink, and when they had had enough, the singer sang. And what he sang was this: how there had been a fierce quarrel at a great sacrifice between Achilles, who was the bravest man among the Greeks, and Ulysses, who was the wisest, and how Agamemnon was glad to see it, because a prophet had told him that when wisdom and valour should fall out the end of Troy would soon come. As he sang, Ulysses held his cloak before his face to hide his tears, for he was ashamed that the people should see them. When the song was at an end, he wiped them away, and sat like the others; but when the chief called out that it should be sung again, for indeed it pleased them much, then he wept again. But the king was the only man to see it.

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


After this the king said: "Now, let us go and have games as is our custom, boxing and wrestling and running, so that this stranger may see what we can do." The best of the boxers was the king's eldest son, and he said to Ulysses: "Stranger, why do you sit there so sad and silent? Why do you not try your skill in some game?"

Ulysses answered: "I am in no mind for sport and games. I can think of nothing but how I can get back to my home."

Then another of the young men, who had won the prize for wrestling, said: "Well, stranger, you have not the look of one who is skilful in boxing and wrestling. I should say that you were one who travels about to buy and sell."

Then Ulysses was angry, and said: "That is a foolish speech. Some men have good looks, and some can speak wisely. I find no fault with your looks, but your words are idle. I know these games right well, and in old time was skilful in them, but I have suffered much, both in war and in many journeys over land and sea. Yet I will show you what I can do."

And he took up a quoit, heavier than any of those which the Phaeacians had used, and sent it with a whirl through the air. And one of the company—so it seemed, but it was really Athené in the shape of a man—marked the place where it fell, and said: "Stranger, even a blind man could see that there is no one here to match you in strength."

Ulysses was glad to hear these words, for he thought: "Now I have a friend here;" and he said aloud: "Now let any one match this throw. Ay, and if any one will box with me, or wrestle with me, let him stand up. I will even run a race, though in this I can hardly be the winner, so much have I suffered on the sea."

Then said the king: "Stranger, you speak well: we Phaeacians are not good at boxing and wrestling. Swift of foot we are, and we love feasts and dances, and music and gay clothing. Of these things no man knows more than do we."

This the king said, wishing to make peace. Also he said: "Now let each one of the princes give to this stranger two coats, an inner and an outer, and a talent of gold. And let the prince whose words made him angry, give a double gift."

To this they all agreed; and the prince who had given him offence gave him also a sword, which had a silver hilt and an ivory scabbard. And as he gave it, he said: "Father, I wish you well; if there was any offence in my words, let the winds carry it away. The gods grant that you may see again your wife, and your friends, and your own country!"

And Ulysses answered: "And I also wish you well! May you live happily, and never miss this handsome sword which you have given me!"

Then the other princes gave him their gifts. And the king said to the queen: "Now let them fetch a chest, the best you have, and do you put in it two coats, an outer and an inner. And I will give this stranger a beautiful cup of gold that is my own. So will he remember me all the days of his life, when he sits at the feast and drinks out of the cup."

So they brought a chest from the queen's chamber, and all the gifts that the princes had given to Ulysses were put in it, and she herself with her own hands put in it the outer coat and the inner. And when the chest was filled with these things, she said to Ulysses: "Now look to the lid, and fasten it so that no man may rob you as you sleep, while the ship takes you back to your native country."

So Ulysses fixed the lid, tying it with a very cunning knot that Circé had taught him. After this he went to the bath. And as he came from the bath, Nausicaa met him, and wondered to see how handsome he was, and she said: "Farewell, stranger. When you come to your own country, think of me, for indeed you owe me your life."

And Ulysses said: "Surely, Nausicaa; I will honour you as I would honour one of the goddesses, all the days of my life, for indeed I owe you my life."

Then he went into the hall, and sat down by the side of the king, and there came in a steward leading the blind singer by the hand. Now there had been set before Ulysses the chine of a wild boar, for this is the dish which was served to a guest whom his host wished to honour above all others. And he took his knife, and cut from it a great helping, and said to a servant: "Now carry this to the singer, for there is no one whom men should more honour than him who sings of the great deeds of famous men." So the servant bore the dish to the singer, and laid it upon his knees. After a while, when the company had had enough of meat and drink, Ulysses said to the singer: "You sing right well of the toil and trouble which the Greeks had before the great city of Troy. Truly you could not have done this thing better if you had been there yourself. Come now, sing to us of the Wooden Horse which was made after the device of Epeius, but it was Athené who put it into his heart. Tell us also how Ulysses contrived that it should be dragged up into the very citadel of Troy, after he had first hidden inside it the bravest of the Greek chiefs. Sing us now this song, and I shall know that the gods themselves have taught you."

Then the minstrel sang how the Wooden Horse was made, and how Ulysses, with certain of the bravest of the Greek chiefs, hid themselves within, and how the rest of the forces pretended to depart, burning their camp, and sailing away in their ships, but they did not sail farther than to a certain island that there was close by. Also he told how the people of Troy dragged the horse within the walls of the city into the public square where they used to meet and hold their Assembly; also how the people sat round it, and the chief men among them gave their advice what should be done with this strange thing. Some said: "Let us cleave it open, and see what there may be inside." Others said: "Let us take it to the brow of the hill and cast it down;" but some advised that it should be left where it was, as a thank-offering to the gods who had delivered the city from their enemies. And this counsel prevailed, for it was the doom of the city that it should be taken by means of the Wooden Horse.

So he sang, and the heart of Ulysses was melted within him as he listened, and the tears ran down his cheeks. But only the king perceived. And the king said to the singer: "Cease now from your singing, for ever since you began, this stranger has not ceased to shed tears: we are come together to make merry and to rejoice, and to give gifts to this stranger, and to send him to his home." Then he turned to Ulysses, and said: "Tell us now your name, O stranger: tell us also from what land you come, for if our ships are to take you to your home, they must know what course to take that they may carry you thither. For, indeed, our ships are not as the ships of other men. They have no need of rudders or steersmen, but they know of themselves which way they should go. Tell us therefore your name, and the name of the land from which you come. I did perceive that you wept when you heard the fate of Troy. Had you, perchance, kinsman, or brother, or friend among those who perished at Troy?" Then said Ulysses: "O king, what shall I tell you first, and what last, for I have endured many things. But first I will tell you my name. Know, then, that I am ULYSSES, King of Ithaca." And afterwards he told them the story of all that he had suffered from the day that he had sailed away from Troy down to his coming to the island of Calypso.