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To Telemachus Odysseus said, ‘My son, we must now get the weapons out of the hall. Take them down from the walls.’ Telemachus and his father took down the helmets and shields and sharp-pointed spears. Then said Odysseus as they carried them out, ‘To-morrow, when the wooers miss the weapons and say, "Why have they been taken?" answer them, saying, "The smoke of the fire dulled them, and they no longer looked the weapons that my father left behind him when he went to the wars of Troy. Besides, I am fearful lest some day the company in the hall come to a quarrel, one with the other, and snatch the weapons in anger. Strife has come here already. And iron draws iron, men say."’

Telemachus carried the armour and weapons out of the hall and hid them in the women’s apartment. Then when the hall was cleared he went to his own chamber.

It was then that Penelope came back to the hall to speak to the stranger. One of her handmaidens, Melantho by name, was there, and she was speaking angrily to him. Now this Melantho was proud and hard of heart because Antinous often conversed with her. As Penelope came near she was saying:

‘Stranger, art thou still here, prying things out and spying on the servants? Be thankful for the supper thou hast gotten and betake thyself out of this.’

Odysseus, looking fiercely at her, said, ‘Why shouldst thou speak to me in such a way? If I go in ragged clothes and beg through the land it is because of my necessity. Once I had a house with servants and with much substance, and the stranger who came there was not abused.’

The lady Penelope called to the handmaiden and said, ‘Thou, Melantho, didst hear it from mine own lips that I was minded to speak to this stranger and ask him if he had tidings of my lord. Therefore, it does not become thee to revile him.’ She spoke to the old nurse who had come with her, and said, ‘Eurycleia, bring to the fire a bench, with a fleece upon it, that this stranger may sit and tell me his story.’

Eurycleia brought over the bench, and Odysseus sat down near the fire. Then said the lady Penelope, ‘First, stranger, wilt thou tell me who thou art, and what is thy name, and thy race and thy country?’

Said Odysseus, ‘Ask me all thou wilt, lady, but inquire not concerning my name, or race, or country, lest thou shouldst fill my heart with more pains than I am able to endure. Verily I am a man of grief. But hast thou no tale to tell me? We know of thee, Penelope, for thy fame goes up to heaven, and no one of mortal men can find fault with thee.’

Then said Penelope, ‘What excellence I had of face or form departed from me when my lord Odysseus went from this hall to the wars of Troy. And since he went a host of ills has beset me. Ah, would that he were here to watch over my life! The lords of all the islands around--Dulichium and Same and Zacynthus; and the lords of the land of Ithaka, have come here and are wooing me against my will. They devour the substance of this house and my son is being impoverished.’

‘Long ago a god put into my mind a device to keep marriage with any of them away from me. I set up a great web upon my loom and I spoke to the wooers, saying, "Odysseus is assuredly dead, but I crave that you be not eager to speed on this marriage with me. Wait until I finish the web I am weaving. It is a shroud for Odysseus’ father, and I make it against the day when death shall come to him. There will be no woman to care for Laertes when I have left his son’s house, and I would not have such a hero lie without a shroud, lest the women of our land should blame me for neglect of my husband’s father in his last days."’

‘So I spoke, and they agreed to wait until the web was woven. In the daytime I wove it, but at night I unravelled the web. So three years passed away. Then the fourth year came, and my wooers were hard to deal with. My treacherous handmaidens brought them upon me as I was unravelling the web. And now I cannot devise any other plan to keep the marriage away from me. My parents command me to marry one of my wooers. My son cannot long endure to see the substance of his house and field being wasted, and the wealth that should be his destroyed. He too would wish that I should marry. And there is no reason why I should not be wed again, for surely Odysseus, my lord, is dead.’

Said Odysseus, ‘Thy lord was known to me. On his way to Troy he came to my land, for the wind blew him out of his course, sending him wandering past Malea. For twelve days he stayed in my city, and I gave him good entertainment, and saw that he lacked for nothing in cattle, or wine, or barley meal.’

When Odysseus was spoken of, the heart of Penelope melted, and tears ran down her cheeks. Odysseus had pity for his wife when he saw her weeping for the man who was even then sitting by her. Tears would have run down his own cheeks only that he was strong enough to hold them back.

Said Penelope, ‘Stranger, I cannot help but question thee about Odysseus. What raiment had he on when thou didst see him? And what men were with him?’

SAID Odysseus, ‘Lady, it is hard for one so long parted from him to tell thee what thou hast asked. It is now twenty years since I saw Odysseus. He wore a purple mantle that was fastened with a brooch. And this brooch had on it the image of a hound holding a fawn between its forepaws. All the people marvelled at this brooch, for it was of gold, and the fawn and the hound were done to the life. And I remember that there was a henchman with Odysseus--he was a man somewhat older than his master, round shouldered and black-skinned and curl headed. His name was Eurybates, and Odysseus honoured him above the rest of his company.’

When he spoke, giving such tokens of Odysseus, Penelope wept again. And when she had wept for a long time she said:

‘Stranger, thou wert made welcome, but now thou shalt be honoured in this hall. Thou dost speak of the garments that Odysseus wore. It was I who gave him these garments, folding them myself and bringing them out of the chamber. And it was I who gave him the brooch that thou hast described. Ah, it was an evil fate that took him from me, bringing him to Troy, that place too evil to be named by me.’

Odysseus leaned towards her, and said, ‘Do not waste thy heart with endless weeping, lady. Cease from lamentation, and lay up in thy mind the word I give thee. Odysseus is near. He has lost all his companions, and he knows not how to come into this house, whether openly or by stealth. I swear it. By the hearth of Odysseus to which I am come, I swear that Odysseus himself will stand up here before the old moon wanes and the new moon is born.’

‘Ah, no,’ said Penelope. ‘Often before have wanderers told me such comfortable things, and I believed them. I know now that thy word cannot be accomplished. But it is time for thee to rest thyself, stranger. My handmaidens will make a bed for thee in the vestibule, and then come to thee and bathe thy feet.’

Said Odysseus, ‘Thy handmaidens would be loath to touch the feet of a wanderer such as I. But if there is in the house some old wife who has borne such troubles as I have borne, I would have my feet bathed by her.’

Said Penelope, ‘Here is an ancient woman who nursed and tended that hapless man, Odysseus. She took him in her arms in the very hour he was born. Eurycleia, wash the feet of this man, who knew thy lord and mine.’

Thereupon the nurse, old Eurycleia, fetched water, both hot and cold, and brought the bath to the hearth. And standing before Odysseus in the flickering light of the fire, she said, ‘I will wash thy feet, both for Penelope’s sake and for thine own. The heart within me is moved at the sight of thee. Many strangers have come into this hall, but I have never seen one that was so like as thou art to Odysseus.’

Said Odysseus, ‘Many people have said that Odysseus and I favour each other.’

His feet were in the water, and she put her hand upon one of them. As she did so, Odysseus turned his face away to the darkness, for it suddenly came into his mind that his nurse, old Eurycleia, might recognize the scar that was upon that foot.

How came it there, that scar? It had been made long ago when a boar’s tusk had ripped up the flesh of his foot. Odysseus was then a youth, and he had gone to the mountain Parnassus to visit there his mother’s father.

ONE morning, with his uncles, young Odysseus went up the slope of the mountain Parnassus, to hunt with hounds. In a thick lair a mighty boar was lying. When the sound of the men’s trampling came near him, he sprang up with gleaming eyes and stood before them all. Odysseus, holding his spear in his hands, rushed upon him. But before he could strike him, the boar charged, ripping deep into his flesh with his tusk. Then Odysseus speared him through the shoulder and the boar was slain. His uncles staunched the wound and he stayed with them on the mountain Parnassus, in his grandfather’s house, until
the wound was healed.

And now, as Eurycleia, his old nurse, passed her hands along the leg, she let his foot drop suddenly. His knee struck against the bath, and the vessel of water was overturned. The nurse touched the chin of Odysseus and she said, ‘Thou art Odysses.’

She looked to where Penelope was sitting, so that she might make a sign to her. But Penelope had her eyes turned away. Odysseus put his hand on Eurycleia’s mouth, and with the other hand he drew her to him.

‘Woman,’ he whispered. ‘Say nothing. Be silent, lest mine enemies learn what thou knowest now.’

‘Silent I’ll be,’ said the nurse Eurycleia. ‘Thou knowest me. Firm and unyielding I am, and by no sign will I let anyone know that thou hast come under this roof.’

So saying she went out of the hall to fetch water in the place of that which had been spilt. She came back and finished bathing his feet. Then Odysseus arranged the rags around his leg to hide the scar, and he drew the bench closer to the fire.

Penelope turned to him again. ‘Wise thou art, my guest,’ she said, ‘and it may be that thou art just such a man as can interpret a dream that comes to me constantly. I have twenty geese in the yard outside. In my dream I see them, and then a great eagle flies down from the mountains, and breaks their necks and kills them all, and lays them in a heap in this hall. I weep and lament for my geese, but then the eagle comes back, and perching on a beam of the roof speaks to me in the voice of a man. "Take heart, O wife of Odysseus," the eagle says, "this is no dream but a true vision. For the geese that thou hast seen are thy wooers, and I, that appeared as an eagle, am thy husband who will swiftly bring death to the wooers." Then the dream goes, and I waken and look out on the daylight and see my geese in the courtyard pecking at the wheat in the trough. Canst thou interpret this dream?’

‘Lady,’ said Odysseus, ‘the dream interprets itself. All will come about as thou hast dreamed.’

‘Ah,’ said Penelope, ‘but it cannot now, for the day of my woe is at hand. I am being forced by my parents to choose a husband from the wooers, and depart from the house of Odysseus.’

‘And how wilt thou choose from amongst them?’ said Odysseus.

‘In this way will I make choice,’ said Penelope. ‘My husband’s great bow is still in the house. The one who can bend that bow, and shoot an arrow through the holes in the backs of twelve axes set one behind the other--him will I choose for my husband.’

Said Odysseus, ‘Thy device is good, Penelope, and some god hath instructed thee to do this. But delay no longer the contest of the bow. Let it be to-morrow.’

‘Is that thy counsel, O stranger?’ said Penelope.

‘It is my counsel,’ said Odysseus.

‘I thank thee for thy counsel,’ she said. ‘And now farewell, for I must go to my rest. And do thou lie down in the vestibule, in the bed that has been made for thee.’

So Penelope spoke, and then she went to her chamber with her handmaidens. And in her bed she thought over all the stranger had told her of Odysseus, and she wept again for him.

Next: Chapter XIII