The Greek chiefs, on their return from Troy, were, as we have seen,
all more or less visited by the wrath of the gods; but none of them
endured as many hardships as Ulysses (Odysseus), King of Ithaca, the
hero of Homer's world-renowned epic the Odyssey. During ten long years
he roamed the seas, driven away from his native land by adverse winds,
sailing about from place to place, losing his ships and companions,
until at last the gods allowed him to return home. His marvelous
adventures and numerous mishaps during these ten years form the theme
of the Odyssey, which is about as follows.
[Sidenote: Siege of Ismarus.]
After leaving Troy in ruins, Ulysses embarked with his men and spoils,
and, favored by a good wind, soon came within sight of Ismarus, the
home of the worthy and wealthy Ciconians. To increase the riches he
was carrying home, he proposed to his army to land and storm the
city,--a proposal which was enthusiastically received and immediately
But when the men collected near the fleet, instead of embarking as
Ulysses urged them to do, they began to drink the rich wine, to roast
oxen whole, and to indulge in games and revelry. While they were thus
employed and entirely off their guard, the neighbors and allies of the
Ciconians came upon them unawares, and put many to death.
The Greeks, although taken by surprise, fought bravely; but it was
only when the sun was fast sinking, that they finally embarked, and
left the fatal Ciconian shores.
"Onward we sailed, lamenting bitterly
Our comrades slain, yet happy to escape
From death ourselves."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: The Lotus-eaters.]
A hurricane soon arose. The flying clouds blotted the stars from view.
The vessels, with broken masts and torn sails, were driven far out of
their course, and, after ten days, reached the land of the Lotophagi
or Lotus-eaters,--a people whose sole food consisted of lotus fruit
Three of Ulysses' best men were sent ashore to reconnoiter: but they
had not gone very far before they met the natives, seated under their
favorite trees, banqueting on their sweet food. These received the
strangers hospitably, and made them partake of the lotus blossoms; but
no sooner had the three men done so, than all recollection of their
waiting companions or distant homes passed from their minds, while a
dreamy, lethargic sensation stole over them, and made them long to
recline there and feast forever.
"Whoever tasted once of that sweet food
Wished not to see his native country more,
Nor give his friends the knowledge of his fate.
And then my messengers desired to dwell
Among the Lotus-eaters, and to feed
Upon the lotus, never to return."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Ulysses impatiently watched for their return; then, seeing they did
not appear, feared some evil had befallen them, and set out, with a
few well-armed men, to go in search of them. Instead of finding them
in chains, as he fully expected, he soon perceived them feasting among
the Lotus-eaters. Their eyes had lost all animation, and rested upon
him in a vague, dreamy way, which aroused his suspicions. At the same
moment some of the Lotus-eaters advanced to invite him and his troop
to join in their feast.
"Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far, far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep asleep he seem'd, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make."
In peremptory tones Ulysses quickly forbade his men to taste of the
magic food, directed them to seize and bind their unwilling comrades,
and forcibly take them back to their ships. There the magic effect of
the lotus food soon wore away, and the men rowed steadily westward,
until they came to the Island of Sicily, then inhabited by the
Cyclopes, a rude race of one-eyed giants.
"A single ball of sight was fix'd
In their mid-forehead: hence the Cyclops' name:
For that one circular eye was broad infix'd
In the mid-forehead:--strength was theirs, and force,
And craft of curious toil."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
The main part of the fleet was stationed at another island not far
distant, but Ulysses and twelve companions landed in Sicily in search
of food. The prospect was promising, for on the plains and hillsides
great flocks of sheep cropped the tender grass; and Ulysses and his
followers soon came to a great cave filled with rich stores of milk
and cheese. This was the abode of Polyphemus, son of Neptune, the
largest and fiercest among the gigantic Cyclopean race. The Greeks'
first impulse was to help themselves, since no one was there to say
them nay; but they finally decided to await the master's home-coming,
and courteously ask his assistance. They had moored their vessel under
an overhanging cliff, where no one would be likely to find it, and had
therefore no fear lest their means of escape should be cut off.
[Illustration: TRIUMPH OF GALATEA.--Raphael.]
[Sidenote: Polyphemus and Galatea.]
Polyphemus, the ugly giant in whose cave they were waiting, had once
seen the charming sea nymph Galatea riding in her pearl-shell chariot
drawn by bounding dolphins. Her unsurpassed loveliness made a vivid
impression upon him, and he was soon deeply in love with her. He
neglected his flocks, shunned his companions, and spent all his time
near the seashore, watching for her, and bitterly cursing his fate,
which prevented his seeking her in her native element, for the gods
had cursed the race of Cyclops with an unconquerable aversion to
Not in the little present-making style,
With baskets of new fruit and pots of roses,
But with consuming passion. Many a time
Would his flocks go home by themselves at eve,
Leaving him wasting by the dark seashore,
And sunrise would behold him wasting still."
Theocritus (Hunt's tr.).
To induce Galatea to leave the salt sea waves and linger by his side
on the white sandy beach, Polyphemus constantly made the most
extravagant promises; but the dainty nymph merely laughed at all his
professions, and strolled on the shore only when he was sound asleep.
Although she made fun of his love, she was not so obdurate to the suit
of Acis, a very fascinating young shepherd, who had no need to call
her repeatedly; for she always yielded to his first appeal, joyfully
joined him, and sat beside him under the shade of some great rock,
listening to his tender wooing.
[Illustration: ACIS AND GALATEA (Evening).--Claude Lorraine. (St.
Polyphemus once accidentally came upon them thus, ere they were aware
of his proximity. For a moment he glared down upon them; then, seizing
a huge rock, he vowed his rival Acis should not live to enjoy the love
which was denied him, and hurled it down upon the unsuspecting lovers.
Galatea, the goddess, being immortal, escaped unhurt; but poor Acis,
her beloved, was crushed to death. The stream of blood from his
mangled remains was changed by the gods into an exhaustless stream
of limpid water, which ever hastened down to the sea to join Galatea.
[Sidenote: Polyphemus' cave.]
Ulysses and his companions, waiting in the cave, soon felt the ground
shake beneath their feet, and saw the sheep throng into the cave and
take their usual places; then behind them came the horrible apparition
of Polyphemus, who picked up a huge rock and placed it before the
opening of the cave, preventing all egress. Ulysses' companions had
shrunk with fear into the darkest corners of the cave, whence they
watched the giant milk his ewes, dispose of his cheeses, and make his
evening meal. But the firelight soon revealed the intruders; and
Polyphemus immediately demanded who they were, whence they came, and
what they were seeking.
Ulysses, ever wily, replied that his name was No man, that he and his
companions were shipwrecked mariners, and that they would fain receive
his hospitality. In answer to this statement, the Cyclops stretched
forth his huge hand and grasped two of the sailors, whom he proceeded
to devour for dessert. Then, his frightful repast being ended, he lay
down on the rushes and fell asleep, his loud snores reverberating like
thunder through the great cave.
Ulysses silently crept to his side, sword in hand, and was about to
kill him, when he suddenly recollected that neither he nor his men
could move the rock at the cave's mouth, and that they would never be
able to escape. He therefore resolved to have recourse to a stratagem.
When morning came, the giant rose, milked his flock, made his cheese,
arranged the vessels, and then, without the least warning, again
seized and devoured two of the Greeks. His brawny arm next pushed
aside the rock, and he stood beside it with watchful eye, until all
his herd had passed out; then, replacing the stone to prevent the
escape of his prisoners, he went off to the distant pasture ground.
During his absence, Ulysses and his men devised a cunning plan
whereby they hoped to effect their escape, and made all their
preparations to insure its complete success. A huge pine club which
they found in the cave was duly pointed, hardened in the fire, and set
aside for future use.
When the darkness began to fall over the earth, Polyphemus again
rolled the stone away to admit his flocks, keeping careful guard upon
the Greeks. The sheep all in, he replaced the rock, performed his
usual evening duties, and then devoured two of Ulysses' crew.
[Sidenote: Ulysses blinds Polyphemus.]
When this part of the evening meal was over, Ulysses drew near and
offered him a leather flask full of heady wine, which the giant took
down at a gulp, little suspecting its effect. Very soon he sank into a
deep drunken sleep; and then the men, at a sign from Ulysses, heated
the point of the huge club and put out his sole eye, in spite of his
frightful cries and execrations, which soon attracted the attention of
the other Cyclopes.
They thronged without the cave, clamoring to know who was hurting him.
"No man!" replied the Cyclops, howling with pain, "No man!" which
answer convinced his would-be helpers that he needed no assistance,
and made them disperse.
"'If no man does thee violence, and thou
Art quite alone, reflect that none escape
Diseases; they are sent by Jove.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Ulysses' escape.]
Deserted by his companions, Polyphemus spent the night in agony; and,
when the anxious lowing of his herd roused him at break of day, he
fumblingly milked them, and prepared to let them go forth, as usual,
in search of their morning meal. To avoid the Greeks escaping, he
rolled the stone only partly aside, and allowed the sheep to pass out
a few at a time, carefully running his hand over each broad back to
make sure that none of the prisoners were mounted upon them.
Ulysses, in the mean while, having observed this maneuver, fastened
his companions under the rams, reserving one for his own use, and
watched them pass out one after the other undetected. Then, clinging
to the wool of the largest ram, he too was slowly dragged out; while
Polyphemus petted the ram, and inquired how he came to pass out last
"'My favorite ram, how art thou now the last
To leave the cave? It hath not been thy wont
To let the sheep go first, but thou didst come
Earliest to feed among the flowery grass,
Walking with stately strides, and thou wert first
At the fresh stream, and first at eve to seek
The stable; now thou art the last of all.
Grievest thou for thy master, who has lost
His eye, put out by a deceitful wretch
And his vile crew?'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Ulysses, having thus escaped, sprang to his feet, set his companions
free, rushed with them down to the seashore, taking the choice animals
on board, and then, when his men had rowed some distance, raised his
voice and taunted Polyphemus, revealing at the same time his identity.
"'Ha! Cyclops! those whom in thy rocky cave
Thou, in thy brutal fury, hast devoured,
Were friends of one not unexpert in war;
Amply have thy own guilty deeds returned
Upon thee. Cruel one! who didst not fear
To eat the strangers sheltered by thy roof,
Jove and the other gods avenge them thus!
* * * * *
Cyclops, if any man of mortal birth
Note thine unseemly blindness, and inquire
The occasion, tell him that Laertes' son,
Ulysses, the destroyer of walled towns,
Whose home is Ithaca, put out thine eye.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
With a cry of rage, Polyphemus then ran down to the shore, tore up
some huge rocks, which he hurled in the direction whence the taunting
voice came, and in his rage almost destroyed the Greeks; for one piece
of rock fell very near their vessel, and they were forced to redouble
their efforts to row out of reach and prevent disaster.
[Sidenote: Gift of Æolus.]
The Greeks now sailed on until they reached the Æolian Islands, where
dwelt Æolus, king and father of the winds. He had heard of Ulysses'
prowess, received him kindly, and at parting gave him a leather bag
containing all the contrary winds, which Ulysses was thus at liberty
to retain imprisoned until he had safely reached home (p. 214).
Day and night Ulysses' barks now bounded over the blue waves. On the
ninth evening the shores of Ithaca were discerned by the eager eyes on
board, and all made their preparations for landing early the next
morning. For the first time since he had left the Æolian shores,
Ulysses now indulged in sleep; and while he was lost in oblivion his
sailors opened the leather bag, intending to rob their master of a
portion of his treasure, for they imagined that Æolus had given him
The bag was no sooner opened, than the contrary winds, weary and
cramped with their uncomfortable position, sprang out with a rush and
a roar, and in a few moments stirred up a terrible storm, which tore
the ships from their anchors, and soon drove them far out to sea.
After untold suffering, the Greeks landed again upon the Æolian Isle,
and Ulysses sought the king, to beseech his aid once more; but this
time the god received him coldly, and bade him depart, as his cruelty
to Polyphemus had awakened the gods' wrath.
"'Hence with thee! Leave our island instantly,
Vilest of living men! It may not be
That I receive or aid as he departs
One who is hated by the blessed gods,--
And thou art hated by the gods. Away!'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: The Læstrygonians.]
Sorrowfully now the Greeks embarked; but, instead of being hurried
along by favorable winds, they were obliged to row against wind and
waves, and only after many days came to the land of the Læstrygonians,
where fresh losses awaited them. These people were cannibals, who were
in the habit of slaying all the strangers who visited their shores, to
satisfy their horrible appetites. When they saw the vessels enter
their harbor, they sunk some of them by casting huge rocks at them
from their tall cliffs, and speared and devoured the unfortunate
Ulysses, ever cautious, had lingered without the harbor; and when,
from afar, he saw his companions' horrible fate, he bade his men
strike the waves with their "sounding oars" and escape.
[Sidenote: Circe, the enchantress.]
The Greeks went on again until they came to Ææa, an island inhabited
by the golden-haired enchantress Circe, sister of Æetes, and aunt of
Medea. Here Ulysses' crew was divided into two parties, one of which,
led by Eurylochus, set out to explore the island, while the other,
headed by Ulysses, remained to guard the ships. Through a dense
forest, peopled with strangely gentle wild beasts, Eurylochus led his
force, until they came in sight of the beautiful palace home of Circe.
From afar they could hear her sweet voice raised in song, as she wove
a beautiful web for her own adornment: so they pressed eagerly on, and
entered the palace hall, Eurylochus alone lingering on the porch,
fearing lest some fraud might suddenly be revealed.
Circe received her self-invited guests most graciously, seated them on
tapestry-covered couches, and bade her numerous handmaidens speedily
set before them all manner of good cheer,--an order which was
immediately carried out. The men feasted greedily, for they had fasted
for many days, and Circe watched them with ill-concealed disgust.
Suddenly she started from her seat, waved her wand over their heads,
and bade them assume the form of swine (which obscene animals their
gluttony suggested), and hie them to their sties.
[Illustration: CIRCE AND THE FRIENDS OF ULYSSES.--Rivière.]
She touched them with a wand, and shut them up
In sties, transformed to swine in head and voice,
Bristles and shape, though still the human mind
Remained to them. Thus sorrowing they were driven
Into their cells, where Circe flung to them
Acorns of oak and ilex, and the fruit
Of cornel, such as nourish wallowing swine."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Eurylochus, meanwhile, vainly awaited their return, and finally
resolved to go back alone to the ships and report what had happened.
Sword in hand, Ulysses then set out alone to rescue his comrades; but
he had not gone far before he met a youth,--Mercury in disguise,--who
warned him not to approach any nearer Circe, and told him of his
[Sidenote: Ulysses and Circe.]
As Ulysses would not be dissuaded from his purpose, Mercury gave him
some moly, an herb warranted to preserve him from Circe's magic
spells, and sundry important directions, which were all duly listened
to and observed.
Pressing onward, Ulysses reached the palace, entered the banquet room,
drank Circe's mixture, which was rendered ineffective by the moly's
power, and, when she waved her wand over his head and bade him join
his fellows, drew his sword and rushed upon her, threatening to take
her life if she did not immediately restore his friends to their human
forms, and promise to do them no further harm.
Circe, terrified at the threat, agreed to comply with all his demands;
and in a few moments Ulysses was again surrounded by his companions,
who were touchingly grateful for their rescue. Circe now prepared a
second feast, and entertained them all so well, that Ulysses lingered
there for one whole year.
"And there from day to day
We lingered a full year, and banqueted
Nobly on plenteous meats and delicate wines."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Ulysses visits Cimmeria.]
At the end of that time, Ulysses' companions began to long for their
own homes, and prevailed upon their chief to leave the fair
enchantress Circe. At first she was loath to let him go; but, seeing
that her efforts to detain him longer would be of no avail, she bade
him seek the Cimmerian shores, and there consult the seer Tiresias.
This land, which lay on the confines of Pluto's dark realm, was
inhabited by shadows, the spirits of the dead, condemned to sojourn
there a while ere they were admitted into Hades.
Ulysses embarked, and, according to Circe's directions, let his vessel
drift along until its prow grated on a pebbly beach, where he landed.
Then, walking straight before him, he came to a spot whence he could
hear the roar of the Phlegethon as it joined the Acheron, and here he
dug a trench with his sword.
The trench finished, he killed two black victims, furnished by Circe,
and made their blood flow into the trench. Immediately all the spirits
crowded about him, eager to drink the fresh blood; but Ulysses, with
drawn sword, forced them back, until at last Tiresias, the blind seer,
He was allowed to stoop down and drink; and, as soon as he had done
so, he recovered the power of human speech, and warned Ulysses of the
many trials still awaiting him. Then, his prophecy concluded, he
vanished; but Ulysses lingered a little longer to allow his mother to
drink some blood, and explain how she came to be here in the spirit
Many others came and conversed with him; but at last he was forced to
depart, and return to Ææa, where he lingered to perform the funeral
rites for Elpenor,--one of his followers, a youth who had fallen
asleep on one of the palace turrets, and by an inadvertent movement
had fallen to the ground, where he had been found dead.
[Illustration: SIREN. (Acropolis Museum, Athens.)]
[Sidenote: The Sirens.]
These obsequies over, the Greeks, favored by a fresh wind, left
Circe's isle, and sailed along until they drew near the rocky ledge
where the Sirens had their abode. These maidens were wont to sit on
the rocks and sing entrancing songs, which allured the mariners
until they turned aside from their course, and their vessels were
dashed to pieces on the rocks.
According to Circe's advice, Ulysses bade his men bind him fast to the
mast, disregard his cries and gestures of command, and keep on their
course until the dangerous rocks were lost to view; but, before he
allowed them to execute these orders, he stopped their ears with
melted wax, so they could not hear a sound, for he alone could hear
the Sirens' song and live.
The men then bound him hand and foot to the mast, returned to their
oars, and rowed steadily on. Soon the Sirens' melody fell upon
Ulysses' charmed ears; but, although he commanded and implored his men
to set him free and alter their course, they kept steadily on until no
sound of the magic song could reach them, when they once more set
their leader free.
[Sidenote: Charybdis and Scylla.]
Now, although this danger had been safely passed, Ulysses was troubled
in spirit, for he knew he would soon be obliged to steer his course
between two dread monsters, Charybdis and Scylla, who lay so close
together, that, while striving to avoid one, it was almost impossible
not to fall an easy prey to the other.
Charybdis' den lay under a rock crowned with a single wild fig tree;
and three times daily she ingulfed the surrounding waters, drawing
even large galleys into her capacious jaws.
As for Scylla, she too dwelt in a cave, whence her six ugly heads
protruded to devour any prey that came within reach.
"No mariner can boast
That he has passed by Scylla with a crew
Unharmed; she snatches from the deck, and bears
Away in each grim mouth, a living man."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
This selfsame Scylla, once a lovely maiden, had won the heart of the
sea god Glaucus (p. 303), but coquettishly tormented him until he
implored Circe to give him some love potion strong enough to compel
Circe, who had long nursed a secret passion for Glaucus, was angry at
him, and jealous of her rival, and, instead of a love potion, prepared
a loathsome drug, which she bade him pour into the water where Scylla
was wont to bathe. Glaucus faithfully did as she commanded; but when
Scylla plunged into the water, her body, and not her feelings,
changed, and she became a loathsome monster, a terror to gods and men.
When in sight of the fig tree, Ulysses, cased in armor, stood on the
prow to attack Scylla should she attempt to seize one of his crew. The
sound of the rushing waters whirling around Charybdis made all on
board tremble with fear, and the pilot steered nearer still to dread
Suddenly a piercing cry was heard, as the monster seized six of the
men and devoured them. The rest passed on unharmed; but since then, in
speaking of conflicting dangers, it has been customary to use the
expression, "falling from Charybdis into Scylla."
[Sidenote: Cattle of the sun.]
Only too glad to effect an escape at any price, the Greeks again rowed
on until they sighted Trinacria, the island of the sun, where Phaetusa
and Lampetia watched over the sun god's sacred herds. The men wished
to land here to rest; but Ulysses reminded them that Tiresias, the
blind seer, had warned them to avoid it, lest by slaying any of the
sacred animals they should incur divine wrath.
The men, however, worn out with the toil of many days' rowing,
entreated so piteously to be allowed to rest, voluntarily pledging
themselves to be content with their own provisions and not to slay a
single animal, that Ulysses reluctantly yielded to their entreaties,
and all went ashore.
After they had duly rested, they were still detained by unfavorable
winds, until all their provisions were exhausted, and the few birds
and fishes they managed to secure no longer sufficed to still the
pangs of hunger.
Led by Eurylochus, some of the men, during one of Ulysses' temporary
absences, caught and slew some of the sun god's cattle. To the
general amazement and terror, the meat lowed while roasting on the
spit, and the empty skins moved and crawled as if alive. All these
sounds and sights could not, however, deter the sailors, who were
bound to have a good feast, which they kept up for seven days, ere
Ulysses could make them leave the Trinacrian shores.
In the mean while, Lampetia had hastened to Apollo to apprise him of
the crime committed by Ulysses' men. In anger he appeared before the
assembled gods and demanded amends, threatening to withdraw the light
of his countenance if he were not properly indemnified. Jupiter, to
appease his hot anger, immediately promised that all the offenders
"'Still shine, O Sun! among the deathless gods
And mortal men, upon the nourishing earth.
Soon will I cleave, with a white thunderbolt,
Their galley in the midst of the black sea!'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
This promise he immediately fulfilled by drowning all except Ulysses,
who alone had not partaken of the sacred flesh, and who, after
clinging to the rudder for nine long days, a plaything for the wind
and waves, was washed ashore on the Island of Ogygia, where the fair
sea nymph Calypso had taken up her abode.
[Sidenote: Ulysses and Calypso.]
There he was kindly and most hospitably entertained during eight long
years; but he could not depart, as he had no vessel or crew to bear
him away. At last Minerva, who had always befriended him, prevailed
upon Jupiter to allow him to return to Ithaca. Mercury was sent to
Ogygia to bid Calypso furnish all things necessary for his comfort,
and aid in the construction of a huge raft, whereon our hero found
himself afloat after many years of reluctant lingering on the land.
All seemed well now; but Neptune suddenly became aware that his old
enemy, the torturer of Polyphemus, was about to escape from his
clutches. With one blow of his trident he stirred up one of those
sudden tempests whose fury nothing can withstand, shattered Ulysses'
raft, and buffeted him about on the waves, until the goddess Leucothea
(p. 174), seeing his distress, helped him to reach the Phæacian shore.
[Sidenote: Nausicaa and Ulysses.]
Too weary to think of aught but rest, Ulysses dragged himself into a
neighboring wood, where he fell asleep on a bed of dry leaves. While
he was thus resting, Minerva visited Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous,
King of the Phæacians, in a dream, and bade her go down to the shore
and wash her linen robes in readiness for her wedding day, which the
goddess assured her was near at hand. Nausicaa obeyed, and drove with
her maidens down to the shore, where, after their labors were duly
finished, they all indulged in a game of ball, with the usual
accompaniment of shrill cries and much laughter. Their cries awoke
Ulysses, who came on the scene just in time to save their ball from
the waves, and claimed Nausicaa's protection for a shipwrecked
She graciously permitted him to follow her to her father's palace, and
presented him to Alcinous and Arete, who bade him welcome, and invited
him to join in the games then taking place. He did so, and displayed
such strength and skill that his identity was revealed. Alcinous then
promised to send him safely home in a Phæacian bark, which reached
Ithaca in safety, and deposited Ulysses, asleep, on his native shore.
[Sidenote: The petrified ship.]
When Neptune discovered that the Phæacians had outwitted him, he was
so angry that he changed the returning vessel into a rock, which
blocked the harbor and put an end to further maritime excursions on
"He drew near
And smote it with his open palm, and made
The ship a rock, fast rooted in the bed
Of the deep sea."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Illustration: PENELOPE. (Vatican, Rome.)]
[Sidenote: Ulysses' return to Ithaca.]
Disguised as a beggar by Minerva's kindly care, Ulysses sought the
lowly dwelling of Eumæus, his swineherd, and from him learned all he
wished to know about his wife and son. He heard that Penelope was
fairly besieged with suitors, who were even now feasting and reveling
in his palace, whence they refused to depart until she had made choice
of a second husband; and also that Telemachus, now a young man,
indignant and displeased with the suitors' conduct, and guided and
accompanied by his tutor Mentor, had set out in search of the father
whom he could not believe dead.
Mentor was Minerva in disguise, who guided the young man to the courts
of Nestor and Menelaus, and finally in a dream bade him return to
Ithaca, where he would find the parent he sought. The young prince
immediately obeyed, and landed near Eumæus' hut, escaping a clever
ambuscade posted by the suitors at the entrance of the port.
Minerva now permitted the father and son to recognize each other, in
spite of their twenty years' separation, and together they planned how
best to punish the insolent suitors. They finally agreed that
Telemachus should return to the palace and make no mention of his
father's return; while Ulysses, still in the guise of a beggar, should
enter his home and claim the usual hospitality.
All was executed as they had planned. No one recognized the
long-expected hero in the miserable old beggar--no one save his aged
nurse Euryclea, and his faithful old dog Argus, who died for joy at
his long-lost master's feet.
"While over Argus the black night of death
Came suddenly as soon as he had seen
Ulysses, absent now for twenty years."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Penelope's web.]
Penelope, hearing that a stranger was within her gates, sent for him,
to inquire whether he knew aught of her husband. She too failed to
pierce his disguise, and languidly continued a piece of work which she
cleverly used to baffle her suitors; for once, when urged to marry,
she had replied that she would do so as soon as her work was finished.
As she was a diligent worker, the suitors expected soon to hear her
decision, little knowing that she raveled at night all the web so
carefully woven during the day.
"Three full years
She practiced thus, and by the fraud deceived
The Grecian youths."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Ulysses' bow.]
At last the subterfuge was discovered, and the unfortunate Penelope
was forced to finish her work; but ere it was quite done, she found
another expedient to postpone her choice of a husband. She brought
Ulysses' bow, and announced that she would marry the man who could
bend it and send an arrow through twelve rings which she pointed out.
"'I bring to you
The mighty bow that great Ulysses bore.
Whoe'er among you he may be whose hand
Shall bend this bow, and send through these twelve rings
An arrow, him I follow hence, and leave
This beautiful abode of my young years,
With all its plenty,--though its memory,
I think, will haunt me even in my dreams.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of the suitors.]
The suitors all vainly strove to bend the mighty bow, which was then
seized by the disguised Ulysses, while the youths laughed aloud in
scorn, until Telemachus bade them let the old man try his strength. To
the amazement of all, Ulysses easily performed the required feat; and
then, turning his aim toward Antinous, the handsomest and most
treacherous of all the suitors, he pierced his heart.
A scene of wild commotion ensued, in which Ulysses, Telemachus,
Eumæus, and Minerva disguised as Mentor, opposed and slew all the
wooers. Penelope, unconscious of all this bloodshed, slept in her
room, until she was gently awakened by Euryclea, who announced the
return of her long-absent husband.
"'Awake, Penelope, dear child, and see
With thine own eyes what thou hast pined for long.
Ulysses has returned; thy lord is here,
Though late, and he has slain the arrogant crew
Of suitors, who disgraced his house, and made
His wealth a spoil, and dared insult his son.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
But Penelope had too long believed her husband dead to credit this
marvelous news; and it was only after Ulysses had given her an
infallible proof of his identity, by telling her a secret which was
shared by her alone, that she received him.
[Sidenote: Ulysses' last journey.]
Ulysses was now safe at home, after twenty years of warfare and
adventure, and at first greatly enjoyed the quiet and peace of his
home life; but after a while these tame joys grew wearisome, and he
decided to renew his wanderings. He therefore prepared a fleet, and
sailed "out into the West," whence he never returned. The Greeks,
however, averred that he had gone in search of the Isles of the Blest,
where he dwelt in perfect peace, and enjoyed the constant society of
heroes as brave and renowned as himself.
"'Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides: and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'"