Book I

Visit of Pallas to Telemachus

A council of the gods⁠—Deliberations concerning Ulysses⁠—Mercury despatched to Calypso, to bid her send Ulysses to Ithaca⁠—Visit of Pallas, in the shape of Mentor, to Telemachus, advising him to repair to Pylos and Sparta in quest of his father, Ulysses⁠—Revels of the suitors of Penelope⁠—Phemius, the minstrel, and his song of the return of the Grecians⁠—The suitors rebuked by Telemachus.

Tell me, O Muse, of that sagacious man
Who, having overthrown the sacred town
Of Ilium, wandered far and visited
The capitals of many nations, learned
The customs of their dwellers, and endured
Great suffering on the deep: his life was oft
In peril, as he labored to bring back
His comrades to their homes. He saved them not,
Though earnestly he strove; they perished all,
Through their own folly; for they banqueted,
Madmen! upon the oxen of the Sun⁠—
The all-o’erlooking Sun, who cut them off
From their return. O goddess, virgin-child
Of Jove, relate some part of this to me.

Now all the rest, as many as escaped
The cruel doom of death, were at their homes
Safe from the perils of the war and sea,
While him alone, who pined to see his home
And wife again, Calypso, queenly nymph,
Great among goddesses, detained within
Her spacious grot, in hope that he might yet
Become her husband. Even when the years
Brought round the time in which the gods decreed
That he should reach again his dwelling-place
In Ithaca, though he was with his friends,
His toils were not yet ended. Of the gods
All pitied him save Neptune, who pursued
With wrath implacable the godlike chief,
Ulysses, even to his native land.

Among the Ethiopians was the god
Far off⁠—the Ethiopians most remote
Of men. Two tribes there are; one dwells beneath
The rising, one beneath the setting sun.
He went to grace a hecatomb of beeves
And lambs, and sat delighted at the feast;
While in the palace of Olympian Jove
The other gods assembled, and to them
The father of immortals and of men
Was speaking. To his mind arose the thought
Of that Aegisthus whom the famous son
Of Agamemnon, Prince Orestes, slew.
Of him he thought and thus bespake the gods:⁠—

“How strange it is that mortals blame the gods
And say that we inflict the ills they bear,
When they, by their own folly and against
The will of fate, bring sorrow on themselves!
As late Aegisthus, unconstrained by fate,
Married the queen of Atreus’ son and slew
The husband just returned from war. Yet well
He knew the bitter penalty, for we
Warned him. We sent the herald Argicide,
Bidding him neither slay the chief nor woo
His queen, for that Orestes, when he came
To manhood and might claim his heritage,
Would take due vengeance for Atrides slain.
So Hermes said; his prudent words moved not
The purpose of Aegisthus who now pays
The forfeit of his many crimes at once.”

Pallas, the blue-eyed goddess, thus replied:⁠—
“O father, son of Saturn, king of kings!
Well he deserved his death. So perish all
Guilty of deeds like his! But I am grieved
For sage Ulysses, that most wretched man,
So long detained, repining, and afar
From those he loves, upon a distant isle
Girt by the waters of the central deep⁠—
A forest isle, where dwells a deity
The daughter of wise Atlas, him who knows
The ocean to its utmost depths, and holds
Upright the lofty columns which divide
The earth from heaven. The daughter there detains
The unhappy chieftain, and with flattering words
Would win him to forget his Ithaca.
Meanwhile, impatient to behold the smokes
That rise from hearths in his own land, he pines
And willingly would die. Is not thy heart,
Olympics, touched by this? And did he not
Pay grateful sacrifice to thee beside
The Argive fleet in the broad realm of Troy?
Why then, O Jove, art thou so wroth with him?”

Then answered cloud-compelling Jove: “My child,
What words have passed thy lips? Can I forget
Godlike Ulysses, who in gifts of mind
Excels all other men, and who has brought
Large offerings to the gods that dwell in heaven?
Yet he who holds the earth in his embrace,
Neptune, pursues him with perpetual hate
Because of Polypheme, the Cyclops, strong
Beyond all others of his giant race,
Whose eye Ulysses had put out. The nymph
Thoosa brought him forth⁠—a daughter she
Of Phorcys, ruling in the barren deep⁠—
And in the covert of o’erhanging rocks
She met with Neptune. For this cause the god
Who shakes the shores, although he slay him not,
Sends forth Ulysses wandering far away
From his own country. Let us now consult
Together and provide for his return,
And Neptune will lay by his wrath, for vain
It were for one like him to strive alone
Against the might of all the immortal gods.”

And then the blue-eyed Pallas spake again:⁠—
“O father! son of Saturn, king of kings!
If such the pleasure of the blessed gods
That now the wise Ulysses shall return
To his own land, let us at once despatch
Hermes, the Argicide, our messenger,
Down to Ogygia, to the bright-haired nymph,
And make our steadfast purpose known to bring
The sufferer Ulysses to his home,
And I will haste to Ithaca, and move
His son, that with a resolute heart he call
The long-haired Greeks together and forbid
The excesses of the suitor train, who slay
His flocks and slow-paced beeves with crooked horns.
To Sparta I will send him and the sands
Of Pylos, to inquire for the return
Of his dear father. So a glorious fame
Shall gather round him in the eyes of men.”

She spake, and fastened underneath her feet
The fair, ambrosial golden sandals worn
To bear her over ocean like the wind,
And o’er the boundless land. In hand she took,
Well tipped with trenchant brass, the mighty spear,
Heavy and huge and strong, with which she bears
Whole phalanxes of heroes to the earth,
When she, the daughter of a mighty sire,
Is angered. From the Olympian heights she plunged,
And stood among the men of Ithaca,
Just at the porch and threshold of their chief,
Ulysses. In her hand she bore the spear,
And seemed the stranger Mentes, he who led
The Taphians. There before the gate she found
The haughty suitors. Some beguiled the time
With draughts, while sitting on the hides of beeves
Which they had slaughtered. Heralds were with them,
And busy menials: some who in the bowls
Tempered the wine with water, some who cleansed
The tables with light sponges, and who set
The banquet forth and carved the meats for all.

Telemachus the godlike was the first
To see the goddess as he sat among
The crowd of suitors, sad at heart, and thought
Of his illustrious father, who might come
And scatter those who filled his palace halls,
And win new honor, and regain the rule
Over his own. As thus he sat and mused
Among the suitors, he beheld where stood
Pallas, and forth he sprang; he could not bear
To keep a stranger waiting at his door.
He came, and taking her right hand received
The brazen spear, and spake these winged words:⁠—

“Hail, stranger! thou art truly welcome here,
First come and share our feast and be refreshed,
Then say what thou requirest at our hands.”

He spake and led the way, and in his steps
Pallas Athenè followed. Entering then
The lofty halls, he set the spear upright
By a tall column, in the armory
With polished walls, where rested many a lance
Of the large-souled Ulysses. Then he placed
His guest upon a throne, o’er which he spread
A covering many-hued and beautiful,
And gave her feet a footstool. Near to her
He drew his parti-colored seat, aloof
From where the suitors sat; that so his guest
Might not amid those haughty revellers
Be wearied with the tumult and enjoy
His meal the less, and that himself might ask
News of his absent father. In a bowl
Of silver, from a shapely ewer of gold,
A maid poured water for the hands, and set
A polished table near them. Then approached
A venerable matron bringing bread
And delicacies gathered from the board;
And he who served the feast before them placed
Chargers with various meats, and cups of gold;
While round the board a herald moved, and poured
Wine for the guests. The haughty suitors now
Came in, and took their places on the thrones
And couches; heralds poured upon their hands
The water; maidens heaped the canisters
With bread, and all put forth their hands to share
The banquet on the board, while to the brim
Boys filled the beakers. When the calls of thirst
And hunger were appeased, the suitors thought
Of other things that well become a feast⁠—
Song and the dance. And then a herald brought
A shapely harp, and gave it to the hands
Of Phemius, who had only by constraint
Sung to the suitors. On the chords he struck
A prelude to his lay, while, as he played,
Telemachus, that others might not hear,
Leaned forward, and to blue-eyed Pallas spake:⁠—

“My friend and guest, wilt thou take no offence
At what I say? These revellers enjoy
The harp and song, for at no cost of theirs
They waste the substance of another man,
Whose white bones now are mouldering in the rain
Upon some mainland, or are tossed about
By ocean billows. Should they see him once
In Ithaca, their prayers would rather rise
For swifter feet than richer stores of gold
And raiment. But an evil fate is his,
And he has perished. Even should we hear
From any of the dwellers upon earth
That he is near at hand, we could not hope.
For him is no return. But now, I pray,
Tell me, and frankly tell me, who thou art,
And of what race of men, and where thy home,
And who thy parents; how the mariners
Brought thee to Ithaca, and who they claim
To be, for well I deem thou couldst not come
Hither on foot. All this, I pray, relate
Truly, that I may know the whole. Art thou
For the first time arrived, or hast thou been
My father’s guest? for many a stranger once
Resorted to our palace, and he knew
The way to win the kind regard of men.”

Pallas, the blue-eyed goddess, answered thus:⁠—
“I will tell all and truly. I am named
Mentes; my father was the great in war
Anchialus. I rule a people skilled
To wield the oar, the Taphians, and I come
With ship and crew across the dark blue deep
To Temesè, and to a race whose speech
Is different from my own, in quest of brass,
And bringing bright steel with me. I have left
Moored at the field behind the town my barque,
Within the bay of Reithrus, and beneath
The woods of Neius. We claim to be
Guests by descent, and from our fathers’ time,
As thou wilt learn if thou shouldst meet and ask
Laertes, the old hero. It is said
He comes no more within the city walls,
But in the fields dwells sadly by himself,
Where an old handmaid sets upon his board
His food and drink when weariness unnerves
His limbs in creeping o’er the fertile soil
Of his rich vineyard. I am come because
I heard thy father had at last returned,
And now am certain that the gods delay
His journey hither; for the illustrious man
Cannot have died, but is detained alone
Somewhere upon the ocean, in some spot
Girt by the waters. There do cruel men
And savage keep him, pining to depart.
Now let me speak of what the gods reveal,
And what I deem will surely come to pass,
Although I am no seer and have no skill
In omens drawn from birds. Not long the chief
Will be an exile from his own dear land,
Though fettered to his place by links of steel;
For he has large invention, and will plan
A way for his escape. Now tell me this,
And truly; tall in stature as thou art,
Art thou in fact Ulysses’ son? In face
And glorious eyes thou dost resemble him
Exceedingly; for he and I of yore
Were oftentimes companions, ere he sailed
For Ilium, whither also went the best
Among the Argives in their roomy ships,
Nor have we seen each other since that day.”

Telemachus, the prudent, spake: “O guest,
True answer shalt thou have. My mother says
I am his son; I know not; never man
Knew his own father. Would I were the son
Of one whose happier lot it was to meet
Amidst his own estates the approach of age.
Now the most wretched of the sons of men
Is he to whom they say I owe my birth.
Thus is thy question answered.” Then again
Spake blue-eyed Pallas: “Of a truth, the gods
Ordain not that thy race, in years to come,
Should be inglorious, since Penelope
Hath borne thee such as I behold thee now.
But frankly answer me⁠—what feast is here,
And what is this assembly? What may be
The occasion? is a banquet given? is this
A wedding? A collation, where the guests
Furnish the meats, I think it cannot be,
So riotously goes the revel on
Throughout the palace. A well-judging man,
If he should come among them, would be moved
With anger at the shameful things they do.”

Again Telemachus, the prudent, spake:⁠—
“Since thou dost ask me, stranger, know that once
Rich and illustrious might this house be called
While yet the chief was here. But now the gods
Have grown unkind and willed it otherwise,
They make his fate a mystery beyond
The fate of other men. I should not grieve
So deeply for his loss if he had fallen
With his companions on the field of Troy,
Or midst his kindred when the war was o’er.
Then all the Greeks had built his monument,
And he had left his son a heritage
Of glory. Now has he become the prey
Of Harpies, perishing ingloriously,
Unseen, his fate unheard of, and has left
Mourning and grief, my portion. Not for him
Alone I grieve; the gods have cast on me
Yet other hardships. All the chiefs who rule
The isles, Dulichium, Samos, and the groves
That shade Zacynthus, and who bear the sway
In rugged Ithaca, have come to woo
My mother, and from day to day consume
My substance. She rejects not utterly
Their hateful suit, and yet she cannot bear
To end it by a marriage. Thus they waste
My heritage, and soon will seek my life.”

Again in grief and anger Pallas spake:⁠—
“Yea, greatly dost thou need the absent chief
Ulysses here, that he might lay his hands
Upon these shameless suitors. Were he now
To come and stand before the palace gate
With helm and buckler and two spears, as first
I saw him in our house, when drinking wine
And feasting, just returned from Ephyrè
Where Ilus dwelt, the son of Mermerus⁠—
For thither went Ulysses in a barque,
To seek a deadly drug with which to taint
His brazen arrows; Ilus gave it not;
He feared the immortal gods; my father gave
The poison, for exceedingly he loved
His guest⁠—could now Ulysses, in such guise,
Once meet the suitors, short would be their lives
And bitter would the marriage banquet be.
Yet whether he return or not to take
Vengeance, in his own palace, on this crew
Of wassailers, rests only with the gods.
Now let me counsel thee to think betimes
How thou shalt thrust them from thy palace gates.
Observe me, and attend to what I say:
Tomorrow thou shalt call the Achaian chiefs
To an assembly; speak before them all,
And be the gods thy witnesses. Command
The suitors all to separate for their homes;
And if thy mother’s mind be bent to wed,
Let her return to where her father dwells,
A mighty prince, and there they will appoint
Magnificent nuptials, and an ample dower
Such as should honor a beloved child.
And now, if thou wilt heed me, I will give
A counsel for thy good. Man thy best ship
With twenty rowers, and go forth to seek
News of thy absent father. Thou shalt hear
Haply of him from someone of the sons
Of men, or else some word of rumor sent
By Jove, revealing what mankind should know.
First shape thy course for Pylos, and inquire
Of noble Nestor; then, at Sparta, ask
Of fair-haired Menelaus, for he came
Last of the mailed Achaians to his home.
And shouldst thou learn that yet thy father lives,
And will return, have patience yet a year,
However hard it seem. But shouldst thou find
That he is now no more, return forthwith
To thy own native land, and pile on high
His monument, and let the funeral rites
Be sumptuously performed as may become
The dead, and let thy mother wed again.
And when all this is fully brought to pass,
Take counsel with thy spirit and thy heart
How to destroy the suitor crew that haunt
Thy palace, whether by a secret snare
Or open force. No longer shouldst thou act
As if thou wert a boy; thou hast outgrown
The age of childish sports. Hast thou not heard
What honor the divine Orestes gained
With all men, when he slew the murderer,
The crafty wretch Aegisthus, by whose hand
The illustrious father of Orestes died?
And then, my friend⁠—for I perceive that thou
Art of a manly and a stately growth⁠—
Be also bold, that men hereafter born
May give thee praise. And now must I depart
To my good ship, and to my friends who wait,
Too anxiously perhaps, for my return.
Act wisely now, and bear my words in mind.”

The prudent youth Telemachus rejoined:⁠—
“Well hast thou spoken, and with kind intent,
O stranger! like a father to a son;
And ne’er shall I forget what thou hast said.
Yet stay, I pray thee, though in haste, and bathe
And be refreshed, and take to thy good ship
Some gift with thee, such as may please thee well,
Precious and rare, which thou mayst ever keep
In memory of me⁠—a gift like those
Which friendly hosts bestow upon their guests.”

Then spake the blue-eyed Pallas: “Stay me not,
For now would I depart. Whatever gift
Thy heart may prompt thee to bestow, reserve
Till I come back, that I may bear it home,
And thou shalt take some precious thing in turn.”

So spake the blue-eyed Pallas, and withdrew,
Ascending like a bird. She filled his heart
With strength and courage, waking vividly
His father’s memory. Then the noble youth
Went forth among the suitors. Silent all
They sat and listened to the illustrious bard,
Who sang of the calamitous return
Of the Greek host from Troy, at the command
Of Pallas. From her chamber o’er the hall
The daughter of Icarius, the sage queen
Penelope, had heard the heavenly strain,
And knew its theme. Down by the lofty stairs
She came, but not alone; there followed her
Two maidens. When the glorious lady reached
The threshold of the strong-built hall, where sat
The suitors, holding up a delicate veil
Before her face, and with a gush of tears,
The queen bespake the sacred minstrel thus:⁠—

“Phemius! thou knowest many a pleasing theme⁠—
The deeds of gods and heroes, such as bards
Are wont to celebrate. Take then thy place
And sing of one of these, and let the guests
In silence drink the wine; but cease this strain;
It is too sad; it cuts me to the heart,
And wakes a sorrow without bounds⁠—such grief
I bear for him, my lord, of whom I think
Continually; whose glory is abroad
Through Hellas and through Argos, everywhere.”

And then Telemachus, the prudent, spake:⁠—
“Why, O my mother! canst thou not endure
That thus the well-graced poet should delight
His hearers with a theme to which his mind
Is inly moved? The bards deserve no blame;
Jove is the cause, for he at will inspires
The lay that each must sing. Reprove not, then,
The minstrel who relates the unhappy fate
Of the Greek warriors. All men most applaud
The song that has the newest theme; and thou⁠—
Strengthen thy heart to hear it. Keep in mind
That not alone Ulysses is cut off
From his return, but that with him at Troy
Have many others perished. Now withdraw
Into thy chamber; ply thy household tasks,
The loom, the spindle; bid thy maidens speed
Their work. To say what words beseem a feast
Belongs to man, and most to me; for here
Within these walls the authority is mine.”

The matron, wondering at his words, withdrew
To her own place, but in her heart laid up
Her son’s wise sayings. When she now had reached,
With her attendant maids, the upper rooms,
She mourned Ulysses, her beloved spouse,
And wept, till blue-eyed Pallas closed her lids
In gentle slumbers. Noisily, meanwhile,
The suitors revelled in the shadowy halls;
And thus Telemachus, the prudent, spake:⁠—

“Ye suitors of my mother, insolent
And overbearing; cheerful be our feast,
Not riotous. It would become us well
To listen to the lay of such a bard,
So like the gods in voice. I bid you all
Meet in full council with the morrow morn,
That I may give you warning to depart
From out my palace, and to seek your feasts
Elsewhere at your own charge⁠—haply to hold
Your daily banquets at each other’s homes.
But if it seem to you the better way
To plunder one man’s goods, go on to waste
My substance; I will call the immortal gods
To aid me, and if Jupiter allow
Fit retribution for your deeds, ye die,
Within this very palace, unavenged.”

He spake; the suitors bit their close-pressed lips,
Astonished at the youth’s courageous words.
And thus Antinoüs, Eupeithes’ son,
Made answer: “Most assuredly the gods,
Telemachus, have taught thee how to frame
Grand sentences and gallantly harangue.
Ne’er may the son of Saturn make thee king
Over the seagirt Ithaca, whose isle
Is thy inheritance by claim of birth.”

Telemachus, the prudent, thus rejoined:⁠—
“Wilt thou be angry at the word I speak,
Antinoüs? I would willingly accept
The kingly station if conferred by Jove.
Dost thou indeed regard it as the worst
Of all conditions of mankind? Not so
For him who reigns; his house grows opulent,
And he the more is honored. Many kings
Within the bounds of seagirt Ithaca
There are, both young and old, let anyone
Bear rule, since great Ulysses is no more;
But I will be the lord of mine own house,
And o’er my servants whom the godlike chief,
Ulysses, brought from war, his share of spoil.”

Eurymachus, the son of Polybus,
Addressed the youth in turn: “Assuredly,
What man hereafter, of the Achaian race,
Shall bear the rule o’er seagirt Ithaca
Rests with the gods. But thou shalt keep thy wealth,
And may no son of violence come to make
A spoil of thy possessions while men dwell
In Ithaca. And now, my friend, I ask
Who was thy guest; whence came he, of what land
Claims he to be, where do his kindred dwell,
And where his patrimonial acres lie?
With tidings of thy father’s near return
Came he, or to receive a debt? How swift
Was his departure, waiting not for us
To know him! yet in aspect and in air
He seemed to be no man of vulgar note.”

Telemachus, the prudent, answered thus:⁠—
“My father’s coming, O Eurymachus,
Is to be hoped no more; nor can I trust
Tidings from whatsoever part they come,
Nor pay regard to oracles, although
My mother send to bring a soothsayer
Within the palace, and inquire of him.
But this man was my father’s guest; he comes
From Taphos; Mentes is his name, a son
Of the brave chief Anchialus; he reigns
Over the Taphians, men who love the sea.”

He spake, but in his secret heart he knew
The immortal goddess. Then the suitors turned.
Delighted, to the dance and cheerful song,
And waited for the evening. On their sports
The evening with its shadowy blackness came;
Then each to his own home withdrew to sleep,
While to his lofty chamber, in full view,
Built high in that magnificent palace home,
Telemachus went up, and sought his couch,
Intent on many thoughts. The chaste and sage
Dame Eurycleia by his side went up
With lighted torches⁠—she a child of Ops,
Pisenor’s son. Her, in her early bloom,
Laertes purchased for a hundred beeves,
And in his palace honored equally
With his chaste wife; yet never sought her bed.
He would not wrong his queen. ’Twas she who bore
The torches with Telemachus. She loved
Her young lord more than all the other maids,
And she had nursed him in his tender years.
He opened now the chamber door and sat
Upon the couch, put his soft tunic off
And placed it in the prudent matron’s hands.
She folded it and smoothed it, hung it near
To that fair bed, and, going quickly forth,
Pulled at the silver ring to close the door,
And drew the thong that moved the fastening bolt.
He, lapped in the soft fleeces, all night long.
Thought of the voyage Pallas had ordained.