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ALL night Odysseus lay awake, tossing this side and that, as he pondered on how he might slay the wooers, and save his house from them. As soon as the dawn came, he went into the open air and, lifting up his hands, prayed to Zeus, the greatest of the gods, that he might be shown some sign, as to whether he would win victory or meet with defeat.

And then, as he was going within the house, he heard the voice of a woman who ground barley-meal between stones. She was one of twelve, but the other women had fallen asleep by the quernstones. She was an ancient, wretched woman, covered all over with the dust of the grain, and, as Odysseus came near her, she lifted up her hands and prayed in a weak voice

‘O Zeus, even for miserable me, fulfil a prayer! May this be the last day that the wooers make their feast in the house of Odysseus! They have loosened my knees with the cruel toil they have made me undergo, grinding for them the barley for the bread they eat. O Zeus, may they to-day sup their last!’

Thus the quern-woman spoke, as Odysseus crossed his thresh-old. He was glad of her speech, for it seemed to him her words were an omen from Zeus, and that vengeance would soon be wrought upon the proud and hard-hearted men who wasted the goods of the house and oppressed the servants.

And now the maids came into the hall from the women’s aPartment, and some cleaned the tables and others took pitchers and went to the well for water. Then men-servants came in and split the fagots for the fire. Other servants came into the courtyard--Eumæus the swineherd, driving fatted swine, the best of his drove, and Philœtius the cattle-herd bringing a calf. The goatherd Melanthius, him whom Odysseus and Eumæus had met on the road the day before, also came, bringing the best goats of his flock to be killed for the wooers’ feast.

When the cattle-herd, Philœtius, saw a stranger in the guise of a beggar, he called out as he tethered the calf in the yard, ‘Hail, stranger friend! My eyes fill with tears as I look on thee. For even now, clad as thou art in rags, thou dost make me think of my master Odysseus, who may be a wanderer such as thou in friendless lands. Ah, that he might return and make a scattering of the wooers in his hall.’ Eumæus the swineherd came up to Philœtius and made the same prayer. These two, and the ancient woman at the quern, were the only ones of his servants whom he heard pray for his return.

And now the wooers came into the hall. Philœtius the cattle-herd, and Melanthius the evil goatherd, went amongst them, handing them bread and meat and wine. Odysseus stood outside the hall until Telemachus went to him and brought him within.

Now there was amongst the wooers a man named Ctesippus, and he was the rudest and the roughest of them all. When he saw Telemachus bringing Odysseus within he shouted out, ‘Here is a guest of Telemachus to whom some gift is due from us. It will be unseemly if he should get nothing to-day. Therefore I will bestow this upon him as a token.’

Saying this, Ctesippus took up the foot of a slaughtered ox and flung it full at Odysseus. Odysseus drew back, and the ox’s foot struck the wall. Then did Odysseus smile grimly upon the wooers.

Said Telemachus, ‘Verily, Ctesippus, the cast turned out happily for thyself. For if thou shouldst have struck my guest, there would have been a funeral feast instead of a wedding banquet in thy father’s house. Assuredly I should have driven my spear through thee.’

All the wooers were silent when Telemachus spoke these bold words. But soon they fell laughing at something one of their number said. The guest from Telemachus’ ship, Theoclymenus, was there, and he started up and went to leave the hall.

‘Why dost thou go, my guest?’ said Telemachus.

‘I see the walls and the beams of the
roof sprinkled with blood,’ said Theoclymenus, the second-sighted man. ‘I hear the voice of wailing. I see cheeks wet with tears. The men before me have shrouds upon them. The courtyard is filled with ghosts.’

So Theoclymenus spoke, and all the wooers laughed at the second-sighted man, for he stumbled about the hall as if it were in darkness. Then said one of the wooers, ‘Lead that man out of the house, for surely he cannot tell day from night.’

‘I will go from the place,’ said Theoclymenus. ‘I see death approaching. Not one of all the company before me will be able to avoid it.’

So saying, the second-sighted man went out of the hall. The wooers looking at each other laughed again, and one of them said:

‘Telemachus has no luck in his guests. One is a dirty beggar, who thinks of nothing but what he can put from his hand into his mouth, and the other wants to stand up here and play the seer.’ So the wooers spake in mockery, but neither Telemachus nor Odysseus paid heed to their words, for their minds were bent upon the time when they should take vengeance upon them.

Next: Chapter XIV