Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Wanderer's Return

When Ulysses awoke he did not know where he was. But the friendly Athene came as usual and told him many things. He had been gone for twenty years, and most people thought he must be dead. A hundred princes had visited his wife, Penelope, asking her to marry them. As she could not marry all, and did not wish to marry any, they had agreed among themselves to stay at her palace until she made up her mind to choose one of them. Then the rest would go away.

Penelope believed that her husband was alive. To put off these troublesome suitors she said, "When my maidens and I have finished this piece of embroidery, I will say who shall be my husband."

It was a very large cloth, and although the girls worked hard, it was never near being done. Penelope and her maidens picked out at night all the stitches they had put in by day.

Athene made Ulysses look like a beggar, and he went up to the palace. Nobody noticed him except the swineherd, who gave him some foot and rest.

Telemachus, the son of Ulysses, came in, and Athene changed the beggar back to his real self. The young man did not know his father, but they soon became acquainted. They planned to get rid of the troublesome suitors. The son was to go in as usual, and the father would come as a beggar, who would tell stories to pay for his dinner.

So it was done. As Ulysses went through the courtyard, an old dog lifted his head, crawled forward, and licked the stranger's feet. He remembered his master, with whom he had so often hunted twenty years before.

The princes were in high glee. They ate and drank and joked, and one of them struck the beggar with a stool. They declared that they would not be put off any longer. Penelope must decide that day. Her son said they were right, but a trial of skill must first be held. Each must shoot with a bow, and he whose arrow went through twelve rings set in a row should have the prize. An old bow belonging to Ulysses was brought into the hall, with plenty of arrows. All other weapons were taken away.

Telemachus tried to bend the bow so as to string it, but could not. Prince after prince tried in vain. The beggar said, "Let me try. Believe me, poor as I am now, I was a soldier once, and these old arms may still have some strength."

The suitors were angry, but Telemachus said it could do no harm to let the old man try. Ulysses took the bow, bent it, and fastened the cord. He picked up an arrow, fitted it to the string, and sent it darting through the twelve rings.

The suitors were astonished. Ulysses shouted, "My son, my swineherd, every friend of mine, to my side! I am Ulysses; I am the master here."

Telemachus and the servants hurried for arms, which they had hidden not far away. They stood beside Ulysses, and the princes saw themselves ensnared. They rushed to the doors, but found them fastened. Then they drew together at one end of the hall, panting like wild beasts that are caught in a trap. They had nothing to fight with, not even a dagger.

"We are defeated," they said. "Open your doors, and give us liberty to go to our homes. We will trouble you no more."

"No!" said Ulysses, who was no longer a beggar, but stood like a king before them. "No! You will trouble me no more! I shall take care of that. Here in my palace you have lived and feasted, eating my substance, abusing my servants, making my wife miserable with your hated offers. You thought me dead, but I live and have come to my own again. Dear wife and son, I am your protector. See, I drive these enemies before me as the stormwind drives withered leaves!"

[Illustration] from Stories of the Ancient Greeks by Charles D. Shaw