Book XVI

Ulysses Discovering Himself to Telemachus

Reception of Telemachus by Eumaeus, who is sent to inform Penelope of her son’s arrival⁠—interview of Ulysses and Telemachus, in which, at the command of Pallas, Ulysses discovers himself⁠—Return of the disappointed suitors from lying in wait for Telemachus.

Meantime Ulysses and that noble hind
The swineherd, in the lodge, at early dawn,
Lighted a fire, prepared a meal, and sent
The herdsmen forth to drive the swine afield.
The dogs, so apt to bark, came fawning round,
And barked not as Telemachus drew near.
Ulysses heard the sound of coming feet,
And marked the crouching dogs, and suddenly
Bespake Eumaeus thus with winged words:⁠—

“Eumaeus, without doubt some friend of thine,
Or someone known familiarly, is near.
There is no barking of the dogs; they fawn
Around him, and I hear the sound of feet.”

Scarce had he spoken, when within the porch
Stood his dear son. The swineherd starting up,
Surprised, let fall the vessels from his hands
In which he mingled the rich wines, and flew
To meet his master; kissed him on the brow;
Kissed both his shining eyes and both his hands,
With many tears. As when a father takes
Into his arms a son whom tenderly
He loves, returning from a distant land
In the tenth year⁠—his only son, the child
Of his old age, for whom he long has borne
Hardship and grief⁠—so to Telemachus
The swineherd clung, and kissed him o’er and o’er,
As one escaped from death, and, shedding still
Warm tears, bespake him thus with winged words:⁠—

“Thou comest, O Telemachus! the light
Is not more sweet to me. I never thought
To see thee more when thou hadst once embarked
For Pylos. Now come in, beloved child,
And let my heart rejoice that once again
I have thee here, so newly come from far.
For ’tis not often that thou visitest
Herdsmen and fields, but dwellest in the town⁠—
Such is thy will⁠—beholding day by day
The wasteful pillage of the suitor-train.”

And thus discreet Telemachus replied:
“So be it, father; for thy sake I came
To see thee with these eyes, and hear thee speak
And tell me if my mother dwells within
The palace yet; or has some wooer led
The queen away, his bride, and does the couch
Of great Ulysses lie untapestried,
With ugly cobwebs gathering over it?”

And then the master swineherd spake in turn:
“Most true it is that with a constant mind
The queen inhabits yet thy palace halls,
And wastes in tears her wretched nights and days.”

So speaking he received his brazen lance,
And over the stone threshold passed the prince
Into the lodge. Ulysses yielded up
His seat to him; Telemachus forbade.

“Nay, stranger, sit; it shall be ours to find
Elsewhere a seat in this our lodge, and he
Who should provide it is already here.”

He spake; Ulysses turned, and took again
His place; the swineherd made a pile of twigs
And covered it with skins, on which sat down
The dear son of Ulysses. Next he brought
Dishes of roasted meats which yet remained,
Part of the banquet of the day before,
And heaped the canisters with bread, and mixed
The rich wines in a wooden bowl. He sat
Right opposite Ulysses. All put forth
Their hands and shared the meats upon the board;
And when the calls of thirst and hunger ceased,
Thus to the swineherd said Telemachus:⁠—

“Whence, father, is this stranger, and how brought
By seamen to the coast of Ithaca?
And who are they that brought him?⁠—for I deem
He came not over to our isle on foot.”

And thus, Eumaeus, thou didst make reply:
“True answer will I make to all. He claims
To be a son of the broad isle of Crete,
And says that in his wanderings he has passed
Through many cities of the world, for so
Some god ordained; and now, escaped by flight
From a Thesprotian galley, he has sought
A refuge in my lodge. Into thy hands
I give him; deal thou with him as thou wilt.
He is thy suppliant, and makes suit to thee.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:
“Eumaeus, thou hast uttered words that pierce
My heart with pain; for how can I receive
A stranger at my house? I am a youth
Who never yet has trusted in his arm
To beat the offerer of an insult back.
And in my mother’s mind the choice is yet
Uncertain whether to remain with me
The mistress of my household, keeping still
Her constant reverence for her husband’s bed,
And still obedient to the people’s voice,
Or whether she shall follow as a bride
Him of the Achaian suitors in my halls
Who is accounted worthiest, and who brings
The richest gifts. Now, as to this thy guest,
Since he has sought thy lodge, I give to him
A cloak and tunic, seemly of their kind,
A two-edged sword, and sandals for his feet.
And I will send him to whatever coast
He may desire to go. Yet, if thou wilt,
Lodge him beneath thy roof, and I will send
Raiment and food, that he may be no charge
To thee or thy companions. To my house
Among the suitor-train I cannot bear
That he should go. Those men are insolent
Beyond all measure; they would scoff at him,
And greatly should I grieve. The boldest man
Against so many might contend in vain,
And greater is their power by far than mine.”

Then spake Ulysses, the great sufferer:
“O friend⁠—since I have liberty to speak⁠—
My very heart is wounded when I hear
What wrongs the suitors practise in thy halls
Against a youth like thee. But give me leave
To ask if thou submittest willingly,
Or do thy people, hearkening to some god,
Hate thee with open hatred? Dost thou blame
Thy brothers?⁠—for in brothers men confide
Even in a desperate conflict. Would that I
Were young again, and with the will I have,
Or that I could become Ulysses’ son,
Or were that chief himself returned at last
From all his wanderings⁠—and there yet is hope
Of his return⁠—then might another strike
My head off if I would not instantly
Enter the house of Laertiades
And make myself a mischief to them all.
But should they overcome me, thus alone
Contending with such numbers, I would choose
Rather in mine own palace to be slain
Than every day behold such shameful deeds⁠—
Insulted guests, maidservants foully dragged
Through those fair palace chambers, wine-casks drained,
And gluttons feasting idly, wastefully,
And others toiling for them without end.”

Then spake again discreet Telemachus:
“Stranger, thou shalt be answered faithfully.
Know, then, the people are by no means wroth
With me, nor have I brothers to accuse,
Though in a desperate conflict men rely
Upon a brother’s aid. Saturnian Jove
Confines our lineage to a single head.
The king Arcesius had an only son,
Laertes, and to him was only born
Ulysses; and Ulysses left me here,
The only scion of his house, and he
Had little joy of me. Our halls are filled
With enemies, the chief men of the isles⁠—
Dulichium, Samos, and Zacynthus dark
With forests, and the rugged Ithaca⁠—
So many woo my mother and consume
Our substance. She rejects not utterly
Their hateful suit, nor yet will give consent
And end it. They go on to waste my wealth,
And soon will end me also; but the event
Rests with the gods.⁠—And go thou now with speed,
Eumaeus, father, to Penelope,
And say that I am safe, and just returned
From Pylos. I remain within the lodge.
And then come back as soon as thou hast told
The queen alone. Let none of all the Greeks
Hear aught; for they are plotting harm to me.”

Then thus, Eumaeus, thou didst make reply:
“Enough, I see it all, thy words are said
To one who understands them. But, I pray,
Direct me whether in my way to take
A message to Laertes, the distressed.
While sorrowing for Ulysses he o’ersaw
The labors of the field, and ate and drank,
As he had appetite, with those who wrought.
But since thy voyage to the Pylian coast
They say he never takes his daily meals
As he was wont, nor oversees the work,
But sits and mourns and sighs and pines away,
Until his limbs are shrivelled to the bone.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:
“ ’Tis sad, but we must leave him to his grief
A little while. Could everything be made
To happen as we mortals wish, I then
Would first desire my father’s safe return.
But thou, when thou hast given thy message, haste
Hither again, nor wander through the fields
To him; but let my mother send at once
The matron of her household, privately,
To bear the tidings to the aged man.”

He spake to speed the swineherd, who took up
His sandals, bound them on, and bent his way
Townward. Not unperceived by Pallas went
Eumaeus from the lodge. She came in shape
A woman beautiful and stately, skilled
In household arts, the noblest. Near the gate
She stood, right opposite. Ulysses saw;
Telemachus beheld her not; the gods
Not always manifest themselves to all.
Ulysses and the mastiffs saw; the dogs
Barked not, but, whimpering, fled from her and sought
The stalls within. She beckoned with her brows;
Ulysses knew her meaning and came forth,
And passed the great wall of the court, and there
Stood near to Pallas, who bespake him thus:⁠—

“Son of Laertes, nobly born and wise,
Speak with thy son; conceal from him the truth
No longer, that, prepared to make an end
Of that vile suitor-crew, ye may go up
Into the royal town. Nor long will I
Be absent; I am ready for the assault.”

Thus spake the goddess. Putting forth a wand
Of gold, she touched the chief. Beneath that touch
His breast was covered with a new-blanched robe
And tunic. To his frame it gave new strength;
His swarthy color came again, his cheeks
Grew full, and the beard darkened on his chin.
This done, she disappeared. Ulysses came
Into the lodge again; his son beheld
Amazed and overawed, and turned his eyes
Away, as if in presence of a god,
And thus bespake the chief with winged words:⁠—

“O stranger, thou art other than thou wert;
Thy garb is not the same, nor are thy looks;
Thou surely art some deity of those
Whose habitation is the ample heaven.
Be gracious to us, let us bring to thee
Such sacrifices as thou wilt accept
And gifts of graven gold; be merciful.”

Ulysses, the great sufferer, thus replied:
“I am no god; how am I like the gods?
I am thy father, he for whom thy sighs
Are breathed, and sorrows borne, and wrongs endured.”

He spake and kissed his son, and from his lids
Tears fell to earth, that long had been restrained.
And then Telemachus, who could not think
The stranger was his father, answered thus:⁠—

“Nay, thou art not my father, thou art not
Ulysses; rather hath some deity
Sought to deceive me, that my grief may be
The sharper; for no mortal man would do
What has been done, unless some god should come
To aid him, and to make him young or old
At pleasure; for thou wert a moment since
An aged man, and sordidly arrayed,
And now art like the gods of the wide heaven.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“It is not well, Telemachus, to greet
With boundless wonder and astonishment
Thy father in this lodge. Be sure of this,
That no Ulysses other than myself
Will ever enter here. I, who am he,
Have suffered greatly and have wandered far,
And in the twentieth year am come again
To mine own land. Thou hast beheld today
A wonder wrought by Pallas, huntress-queen,
Who makes me what she will, such power is hers⁠—
Sometimes to seem a beggar, and in turn
A young man in a comely garb. The gods
Whose home is in the heavens can easily
Exalt a mortal man, or bring him low.”

He spake and sat him down. Telemachus
Around his glorious father threw his arms,
And shed a shower of tears. Both felt at heart
A passionate desire to weep; they wept
Aloud⁠—and louder were their cries than those
Of eagles, or the sharp-clawed vulture tribe,
Whose young the hinds have stolen, yet unfledged.
Still flowed their tears abundantly; the sun
Would have gone down and left them weeping still
Had not Telemachus at length inquired:⁠—

“Dear father, tell me in what galley came
The mariners who brought thee. Of what race
Claim they to be? For certainly, I think,
Thou cam’st not hither travelling on foot.”

Ulysses, the great sufferer, thus replied:
“My son, thou shalt be answered faithfully.
Men of a race renowned for seamanship,
Phaeacians, brought me hither. They convey
Abroad the strangers coming to their isle,
And, bearing me in one of their swift barques
Across the sea, they landed me asleep
In Ithaca. Rich were the gifts they gave⁠—
Much brass and gold, and garments from the loom;
These, so the gods have counselled, lie concealed
Among the hollow rocks, and I am come,
Obeying Pallas, to consult with thee
How to destroy our enemies. Give now
The number of the suitors; let me know
How many there may be, and who they are,
That with a careful judgment I may weigh
The question whether we shall fall on them⁠—
We two alone⁠—or must we seek allies.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:
“O father, I have heard of thy great fame
My whole life long⁠—how mighty is thy arm,
How wise thy counsels. Thou hast said great things,
And I am thunderstruck. It cannot be
That two alone should stand before a crowd
Of valiant men. They are not merely ten⁠—
These suitors⁠—nor twice ten, but many more;
Hear, then, their number. From Dulichium come
Fifty and two, the flower of all its youth,
With whom are six attendants. Samos sends
Twice twelve, and twenty more Achaian chiefs
Come from Zacynthus. Twelve from Ithaca;
The noblest of the isle are these⁠—with whom
Medon the herald comes⁠—a bard whose song
Is heavenly⁠—and two servants skilled to spread
The banquet. Should we in the palace halls
Assault all these, I fear lest the revenge
For all thy wrongs would end most bitterly
And grievously for thee. Now, if thy thought
Be turned to some ally, bethink thee who
Will combat for us with a willing heart.”

Again Ulysses, the great sufferer, spake:
“Then will I tell thee; listen, and give heed.
Think whether Pallas and her father, Jove,
Suffice not for us. Need we more allies?”

And then discreet Telemachus rejoined:
“Assuredly the twain whom thou hast named
Are mighty as allies; for though they sit
On high among the clouds, they yet bear rule
Both o’er mankind and o’er the living gods.”

Once more Ulysses, the great sufferer, spake:
“Not long will they avoid the fierce affray
When in my halls the strength of war is tried
Between me and the suitor crew. Now go
With early morning to thy home, and there
Mingle among the suitors. As for me,
The swineherd afterward shall lead me hence
To town, a wretched beggar seemingly,
And very old. If there they scoff at me
In mine own palace, let thy faithful heart
Endure it, though I suffer; though they seize
My feet, and by them drag me to the door,
Or strike at me with weapon-blades, look on
And bear it; yet reprove with gentle words
Their folly. They will never heed reproof;
The day of their destruction is at hand.
And this I tell thee further, and be sure
To keep my words in memory. As soon
As Pallas, goddess of wise counsel, gives
The warning, I shall nod to thee, and thou,
When thou perceivest it, remove at once
All weapons from my halls to a recess
High in an upper chamber. With soft words
Quiet the suitors when they ask thee why.
Say, ‘I would take them where there comes no smoke,
Since now they seem no longer like to those
Left by Ulysses when he sailed for Troy,
But soiled and tarnished by the breath of fire.
This graver reason, also, Saturn’s son
Hath forced upon my mind⁠—that ye by chance,
When full of wine and quarrelling, may wound
Each other, and disgrace the feast, and bring
Shame on your wooing; for the sight of steel
Draws men to bloodshed.’ Say but this, and leave
Two swords for us, two spears, two oxhide shields,
Against the day of combat. Pallas then,
And Jove the All-disposer, will unman
Their hearts. Moreover, let me say to thee⁠—
And keep my words in memory⁠—if thou be
My son, and of my blood, let no man hear
That now Ulysses is within the isle;
Let not Laertes hear of it, nor him
Who keeps the swine, nor any of the train
Of servants, nor Penelope herself,
While thou and I alone search out and prove
The women of the household, and no less
The serving-men, to know who honors us,
And bears us reverence in his heart, and who
Contemns us, and dishonors even thee.”

Then answered his illustrious son and said:
“Father, thou yet wilt know my heart, and find
That of a careless and too easy mood
I am not; but a search like this, I think,
Would profit neither of us, and I pray
That thou wilt well consider it. Long time
Wouldst thou go wandering from place to place,
O’er thy estates, to prove the loyalty
Of everyone, while in thy halls at ease
The suitors wastefully consume thy wealth.
Yet would I counsel that the women’s faith
Be proved, that the disloyal may be marked
And the innocent go free. As for the men,
I would not now inquire from farm to farm;
That may be done hereafter, if indeed
Thou hast a sign from aegis-bearing Jove.”

So talked they with each other. The good ship
Which brought Telemachus and all his friends
From Pylos kept meantime upon its way
To Ithaca. There, entering the deep port,
The seamen hauled the black ship up the beach;
And then the ready servants took away
The arms, and to the house of Clytius bore
The costly gifts. A herald from the ship
Went forward to the palace of the king
With tidings to the sage Penelope
That now her son was come and in the fields,
And that the ship at his command had reached
The city, lest the royal dame might feel
Fear for his safety, and give way to tears.
The herald and the noble swineherd met,
Each bearing the same message to the queen.
Entering the palace of the godlike king,
And standing midst the maids, the herald said:⁠—

“O lady, thy beloved son is come.”
But close beside the queen the swineherd stood,
And told her everything which her dear son
Had bid him say; and, having thus fulfilled
His errand, left the palace and its court.

Then were the suitors vexed and sorrowful,
And going from the palace, and without
The great wall that enclosed the court, sat down
Before the gates, and there Eurymachus,
The son of Polybus, harangued the throng:⁠—

“Behold, my friends, Telemachus has done
A marvellous thing; this voyage, which we thought
He could not make, is made. Now let us launch
A ship, the best that we can find, and man
With fishermen the benches, sending it
To find our friends, and hasten their return.”

Scarce had he spoken when Amphinomus,
In turning where he stood, beheld a barque
Enter the port’s deep waters, with a crew
That furled the sails and held the oars in hand.
He laughed, well pleased, and to the suitors said:⁠—

“There needs no message to be sent, for they
Are here already. Haply hath some god
Given them the knowledge, or perchance they saw,
But could not overtake, the prince’s ship.”

He spake; they rose and hastened to the strand,
And quickly drew the galley up the beach.
The ready servants bore the arms away;
Then met they all in council, suffering none
Save of the suitor-train to meet with them⁠—
None, either young or old. Eupeithes’ son,
Antinoüs, standing forth, bespake them thus:⁠—

“How strangely do the gods protect this man
From evil! All day long spy after spy
Has sat and watched upon the airy heights,
And when the sun was set we never slept
On land, but ever in our gallant ship
Sailed, waiting for the holy morn, and lay
In constant ambush for Telemachus,
To seize and to destroy him. Yet behold,
Some deity has brought him home. And now
Frame we a plan to cut off utterly
Telemachus, and leave him no escape;
For certainly I think that while he lives
The end we aim at cannot be attained.
Shrewd is the youth in counsel and device,
And we no longer have, as once we had,
The people’s favor. Let us quickly act,
Ere he can call a council of the Greeks.
That he will do without delay, and there
Will rise in wrath to tell them how we planned
His death by violence, and failed; and they
Who hear assuredly will not approve
The plotted mischief. They may drive us forth
With outrage from our country to a land
Of strangers. Let us be the first to strike,
And slay him in the fields or on the way,
And, taking his possessions to ourselves,
Share equally his wealth. Then may we give
This palace to his mother, and the man
Whom she shall wed, whoever he may be.
Or if this plan mislike you, and ye choose
That he should live, and keep the fair estate
That was his father’s, let us not go on
Thronging the palace to consume his wealth
In revelry, but each with liberal gifts
Woo her from his own dwelling; and let him
Who gives most generously, and whom fate
Most favors, take the lady as his bride.”

He spake, and all were mute. Amphinomus,
The illustrious son of royal Nisus, rose.
The grandson of Aretias, it was he
Who led the suitors from Dulichium’s fields,
Grassy and rich in corn. Penelope
Liked best his words, for generous was his thought,
And with a generous purpose thus he spake:⁠—

“Nay, friends, not mine is the advice to slay
Telemachus. It is a fearful thing
To take a royal life. Then let us first
Inquire the pleasure of the gods. For if
The oracles of mighty Jupiter
Approve it, I would do the deed myself,
Or bid another do it; but if they
Consent not, ’tis my counsel to forbear.”

He spake, and all approved. At once they rose,
And, entering the palace, sat them down
On shining thrones. Meantime Penelope
Had formed the purpose to appear before
The arrogant suitors, for the news was brought
Into her chamber of the plot to slay
Her son; the herald Medon overheard,
And told her all. So to the hall she went
With her attendant maids. The glorious dame
Drew near the suitor-train, and took her stand
Beside a column of the stately pile,
And with a delicate veil before her cheeks
Began to speak, and chid Antinoüs thus:⁠—

“Antinoüs, mischief-plotter, insolent!
The rumor is that thou excellest all
Of thy own age among the Ithacans
In understanding and in speech. Yet such
Thou never wert. Ferocious as thou art,
Why seek the death of my Telemachus,
And treat with scorn the suppliants of whose prayer
Jove is the witness? An unholy thing
It is when men against their fellow-men
Plot mischief. Dost thou then forget that once
Thy father came to us a fugitive,
In terror of the people, who were wroth
Because he joined the Taphian pirate-race,
And plundered the Thesprotians, our allies.
The people would have slain him, and have torn
His heart out, and have pillaged his large wealth;
Ulysses checked their rage, and held them back,
Fierce as they were. Now thou dost waste his goods
Most shamefully, and woo his wife, and slay
His son, and multiply my woes. Cease now,
I charge thee, and persuade the rest to cease.”

Eurymachus, the son of Polybus,
Replied: “O daughter of Icarius, sage
Penelope, take heart; let no such thought
Possess thy mind. There is no man on earth,
Nor will there be, who shall lay violent hands
Upon Telemachus, thy son, while I
Am living, and yet keep the gift of sight.
I say, and will perform it⁠—his black blood
Shall flow and bathe my spear. Ulysses oft,
Spoiler of realms, would take me on his knee,
And put the roasted meats into my hands,
And give me ruddy wine. I therefore hold
Telemachus of all mankind most dear,
And I will bid him have no fear of death
From any of the suitors. If it come,
Sent by the gods, he cannot then escape.”

So spake he to appease her, while he planned,
The murder of her son. The queen went up
To the fair upper chambers, and there wept
Ulysses, her dear spouse, till o’er her lids
The blue-eyed Pallas poured the balm of sleep.

At evening to Ulysses and his son
The noble swineherd went, while busily
They made the supper ready, having slain
A porker one year old. Then instantly
Stood Pallas by Ulysses, and put forth
Her wand and touched him, making him again
Old, and clad sordidly in beggar’s weeds,
Lest that the swineherd, knowing at a look
His master, might not keep the knowledge locked
In his own breast, but, hastening forth, betray
The secret to the chaste Penelope.

Then to the swineherd said Telemachus:
“Noble Eumaeus, welcome; what reports
Are in the town? Have those large-minded men,
The suitors, left their ambush and returned,
Or are they waiting yet for me to pass?”

And thus, Eumaeus, thou didst make reply:
“Of that, indeed, I never thought to ask,
In going through the town. My only care
Was to return, as soon as I had given
My message, with such speed as I could make.
I met a messenger, a herald sent
By thy companions, who was first to tell
Thy mother of thy safe return. Yet this
I know, for I beheld it with my eyes.
When outside of the city, where the hill
Of Hermes stands, I saw a gallant barque
Entering the port, and carrying many men.
Heavy it was with shields and two-edged spears;
’Twas they, I thought, and yet I cannot tell.”

He spake; Telemachus the valiant looked
Upon his father with a smile unmarked
By good Eumaeus. When their task was done,
And the board spread, they feasted. No one lacked
His portion of the common meal. Their thirst
And hunger satisfied, they laid them down
To rest, and so received the gift of sleep.