Book XIX

Ulysses Recognized by Eurycleia

Remoyal of the weapons from the hall by Ulysses and his son⁠—Interview of Penelope and Ulysses, who tells her that he has seen her husband in Crete, describes his person and dress, and affirms that within a month he will be in Ithaca⁠—The bath administered to Ulysses by Eurycleia, who recognizes him by a scar on his leg⁠—Narrative of the manner in which the scar was caused.

Now was the godlike chief Ulysses left
In his own palace, planning, with the aid
Of Pallas, to destroy the suitor-train,
And thus bespake his son with winged words:⁠—

“Now is the time, Telemachus, to take
The weapons that are here, and store them up
In the inner rooms. Then, if the suitors ask
The reason, answer them with specious words:
Say, ‘I have put them where there comes no smoke.
Since even now they do not seem the arms
Left by Ulysses when he sailed for Troy,
So tarnished are they by the breath of fire;
And yet another reason sways my mind,
The prompting of some god, that ye, when flushed
With wine and in the heat of a dispute,
May smite and wound each other, and disgrace
The banquet and your wooing; for the sight
Of steel doth draw men on to violence.’ ”

He ended, and Telemachus obeyed
His father’s words, and calling forth his nurse,
The aged Eurycleia, said to her:⁠—

“Go, nurse, and see the women all shut up
In their own place, while in our inner room
I lay away my father’s beautiful arms,
Neglected long, and sullied by the smoke,
While he was absent. I was then a child,
But now would keep them from the breath of fire.”

And thus the nurse, Dame Eurycleia, said:
“Would that at length, my child, thou didst exert
Thy proper wisdom here, and take in charge
Thy house and thy possessions. But who goes
With thee to bear a torch, since none of these,
Thy handmaids, are allowed to light thy way?”

And thus discreet Telemachus replied:
“This stranger. No man may be idle here
Who eats my bread, though from a distant land.”

He spake, nor flew his words in vain. The nurse
Closed all the portals of that noble pile.
Ulysses and his glorious son in haste
Bore off the helmets, and the bossy shields,
And the sharp spears, while Pallas held to them
A golden lamp, that shed a fair clear light.
Then to his father spake Telemachus:⁠—

“Father! my eyes behold a marvel. All
The palace walls, each beautiful recess,
The fir-tree beams, the aspiring columns, shine,
Before my eyes, as with a blaze of fire.
Some god is surely here, someone of those
Who make their dwelling in the high broad heaven.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Keep silence; give thy thought no speech, nor ask
Concerning aught. Such is the wont of those
Who dwell upon Olympus. Now withdraw
To rest upon thy couch, while I remain,
For I would move thy mother and her maids
To ask of what concerns me. She, I deem,
Full sadly will inquire of many things.”

He spake; Telemachus departed thence,
By torchlight, to his chamber, there to rest
Where he was wont to lie when gentle sleep
Came over him. There lay he down to wait
The hallowed morning, while Ulysses, left
Within the palace, meditated still
Death to the suitors with Minerva’s aid.

The sage Penelope now left her bower;
Like Dian or like golden Venus came
The queen. Beside the hearth they placed for her
The throne where she was wont to sit, inlaid
With ivory and silver, which of yore
The artisan Icmalius wrought. They laid
Close to the throne a footstool, over which
Was spread an ample fleece. On this sat down
The sage Penelope. Her white-armed train
Of handmaids came with her; they cleared away
The abundant feast, and bore the tables off,
And cups from which those insolent men had drunk;
They laid upon the ground the lighted brands,
And heaped fresh fuel round them, both for light
And warmth. And now Melantho once again
Bespake Ulysses with unmannerly words:⁠—

“Stranger, wilt thou forever be a pest,
Ranging the house at night to play the spy
Upon the women? Leave the hall, thou wretch!
And gorge thyself without, else wilt thou go
Suddenly, driven by blows and flaming brands.”

The sage Ulysses frowned on her, and said:
“Pert creature! why so fiercely rail at me?
Is it that I am squalid and ill-clad,
And forced by want to beg from hand to hand?
Such is the fate of poor and wandering men.
I too was opulent once, inhabiting
A plenteous home among my fellow-men,
And often gave the wanderer alms, whoe’er
He might be and in whatsoever need;
And I had many servants, and large store
Of things by which men lead a life of ease
And are called rich. But Jupiter, the son
Of Saturn, put an end to this, for so
It pleased the god. Now, therefore, woman, think
That thou mayst lose the beauty which is now
Thy pride among the serving-women here;
Thy mistress may be wroth, and make thy life
A hard one; or Ulysses may come back⁠—
And there is hope of that. Or if it be
That he has perished, and returns no more,
There still remains his son Telemachus,
Who by Apollo’s grace is now a man,
And no one of the women in these halls
May think to misbehave, and yet escape
His eye, for he no longer is a boy.”

He spake; Penelope, the prudent, heard,
And, calling to her maid, rebuked her thus:⁠—

“O bold and shameless! I have taken note
Of thy behavior; thou hast done a wrong
For which thy head should answer. Well thou know’st,
For thou hast heard me say, that I would ask
The stranger in these halls if aught he knows
Of my Ulysses, for whose sake I grieve.”

Then to the matron of the household turned
The queen, and thus bespake Eurynomè:⁠—

“Bring now a seat, Eurynomè, and spread
A fleece upon it, where the stranger guest
May sit at ease, and hear what I shall say,
And answer me, for I have much to ask.”

She spake; the ancient handmaid brought with speed
A polished seat, and o’er it spread a fleece.
Ulysses, much-enduring chief, sat down,
And thus the sage Penelope began:⁠—

“First will I ask thee who thou art, and whence,
Where is thy birthplace, and thy parents who?”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“O lady, none in all the boundless earth
Can speak of thee with blame. Thy fame has reached
To the great heavens. It is like the renown
Of some most excellent king, of godlike sway
O’er many men and mighty, who upholds
Justice in all his realm. The dark-soiled earth
Brings wheat and barley forth; the trees are bowed
With fruit; the meadows swarm with noble herds,
The sea with fish, and under his wise reign
The people prosper. Therefore ask, I pray,
Of other things, while I am underneath
Thy palace-roof, but of my race and home
Inquire not, lest thou waken in my mind
Unhappy memories. I am a man
Of sorrow, and it would become me ill
To sit lamenting in another’s house
And shedding tears. Besides, a grief indulged
Doth grow in violence. Thy maids would blame,
And thou perhaps, and ye would call my tears
The maudlin tears of one o’ercome with wine.”

Then spake the sage Penelope again:
“Stranger, such grace of feature and of form
As once I had the immortals took away,
What time the Argive warriors sailed for Troy,
And my Ulysses with them. Could he now
Return to rule my household as of yore,
The wider and the brighter were my fame.
But now I lead a wretched life, so great
And many are the evils which some god
Heaps on me. For the chieftains who bear sway
Over the isles⁠—Dulichium, and the fields
Of Samos, and Zacynthus dark with woods,
And those who rule in sunny Ithaca⁠—
Woo me against my will, and waste away
My substance. Therefore have I small regard
For strangers and for suppliants, and the tribe
Of heralds, servants of the public weal,
But, pining for Ulysses, wear away
My life. The suitors urge the marriage rite,
And I with art delay it. Once some god
Prompted me to begin an ample web,
Wide and of subtle texture, in my rooms.
And then I said: ‘Youths, who are pressing me
To marriage, since Ulysses is no more,
Urge me no further till I shall complete⁠—
That so the threads may not be spun in vain⁠—
This shroud for old Laertes, when grim fate
And death’s long sleep at last shall overtake
The hero; else among the multitude
Of Grecian women I shall bear the blame,
If one whose ample wealth so well was known
Should lie in death without a funeral robe.’
I spake, and easily their minds were swayed
By what I said, and I began to weave
The ample web, but ravelled it again
By torchlight every evening. For three years
I foiled them thus; but when the fourth year came,
And brought its train of hours and changing moons,
And many days had passed, they came on me,
And through my maidens’ fault, a careless crew,
They caught me at my fraud, and chid me sore.
So, though unwilling, I was forced to end
My task, and cannot longer now escape
The marriage, nor is any refuge left.
My parents both exhort me earnestly
To choose a husband, and my son with grief
Beholds the suitors wasting his estate,
And he already is a man and well
Can rule his household; Jupiter bestows so.
Such honor on him. Now, I pray, declare
Thy lineage, for thou surely art not sprung
From the old fabulous oak, nor from a rock.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered her:
“O royal consort of Laertes’ son!
Wilt thou still ask my lineage? I will then
Disclose it, but thou wakest in my heart
New sorrows. So it ever is with one
Who long, like me, is far away from home,
Wandering in many realms, and suffering much;
But since thou dost require it, thou shalt hear.

“Crete is a region lying in the midst
Of the black deep, a fair and fruitful land,
Girt by the waters. Many are the men,
Nay, numberless, who make it their abode,
And ninety are its cities. Different tongues
Are spoken by the dwellers of the isle.
In part they are Achaians, and in part
Are Cretans of the soil, a gallant stock;
There dwell Cydonians, Dorians of three tribes,
And proud Pelasgians. Their great capital
Is Knossos, where the monarch Minos dwelt,
He who at every nine years’ end conferred
With Jove almighty; and to him was born
Deucalion, my brave father, who begat
Me and Idomeneus, the King of Crete.
To Ilium in his beaked galleys sailed
Idomeneus with Atreus’ sons. My name⁠—
A name well known⁠—is Aethon. ’Twas at Crete
I saw Ulysses, who received from me
The welcome due a guest. A violent wind
Had driven him from Maleia and the course
That led to Ilium, and had carried him
To Crete, and lodged him in the dangerous port
Amnisus, close to Ilithyia’s cave,
Where scarce his fleet escaped the hurricane.
Thence came he to the city, and inquired
For King Idomeneus, who was, he said,
His dear and honored guest; but he had sailed
Ten days before, perhaps eleven, for Troy,
In his beaked galleys. To the palace there
I led Ulysses, and with liberal cheer
Welcomed the chief, for plentifully stored
The royal dwelling was. I also gave
Meal from the public magazines to him
And those who followed him, and dark red wine
Brought from the country round, and beeves to slay
In sacrifice, that so their hearts might feel
No lack of aught. Twelve days the noble Greeks
Remained with us. A violent north-wind,
Which scarcely suffered them to stand upright
On shore, withstood them. Some unfriendly power
Had bid it blow; but on the thirteenth day
Its fury ceased, and the fleet put to sea.”

Thus went he on, inventing tales that seemed
Like truth. She listened, melting into tears
That flowed as when on mountain height the snow,
Shed by the west-wind, feels the east-wind’s breath,
And flows in water, and the hurrying streams
Are filled; so did Penelope’s fair cheeks
Seem to dissolve in tears⁠—tears shed for him
Who sat beside her even then. He saw
His weeping wife, and pitied her at heart;
Yet were his eyes like iron or like horn,
And moved not in their lids; for artfully
He kept his tears from falling. When the queen
Had ceased to weep, she answered him and said:⁠—

“Now, stranger, let me prove thee, if in truth
Thou didst receive, as thou hast just declared,
In thine abode, my husband and his train
Of noble friends. Describe the garb he wore;
How looked he, and the friends he brought with him?”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered her:
“O lady, hard it is to answer thee,
So long have I been far away from home.
’Tis now the twentieth year since he was there
And left the isle, but, as my memory bids,
So will I speak. A fleecy purple cloak
Ulysses wore, a double web; the clasp
Was golden, with two fastenings, and in front
It showed a work of rare design⁠—a hound
That held in his forepaws a spotted fawn,
Struggling before his open mouth. Although
The figures were of gold, we all admired
The hound intent to break his victim’s neck,
The fawn that, writhing, plied her nimble feet
To free herself. Around the hero’s chest
And waist I saw a lustrous tunic worn,
Soft, like the thin film of the onion dried,
And bright as sunshine; many ladies looked
With wonder on it. Yet consider this;
I know not whether thus attired he left
His home, or whether, in the voyage thence,
Some comrade gave the garments, or perhaps
Some friendly host, for he was very dear
To many; among the Greeks were few like him.
I gave him, from myself, a brazen sword,
And a fair purple cloak, a double web,
Besides a tunic reaching to his feet,
And with due honors sent him on his way
In his good ship. There came and went with him
A herald somewhat older than himself;
Let me portray him⁠—hunchbacked, swarthy skinned,
And curly haired, Eurybates his name.
Ulysses honored him above the rest
Of his companions, for they thought alike.”

He ceased; the queen was moved to deeper grief,
For she remembered all the tokens well
Of which he spake; and when that passionate gust
Of weeping ceased, she spake again and said:⁠—

“Stranger, till now thy presence in these halls
Has only moved my pity; thou henceforth
Art dear and honored. It was I who gave
The garments thou hast told me of; these hands
Folded them in my chamber. I put on
The glittering clasp to be his ornament,
And now I never shall behold him more
Returning to his own dear land and home;
So cruel was the fate that took him hence
To Ilium, in his roomy ship, a town
Of evil omen never to be named.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“O gracious consort of Laertes’ son!
Let not thy grief for him whom thou hast lost
Wither thy beauty longer, and consume
Thy heart. And yet I blame thee not at all;
For any wife in losing him to whom
She gave herself while yet a maid, and bore
Children, will mourn him, though he be in worth
Below Ulysses, who, as fame declares,
Is like the gods. But cease to grieve, and hear
What I shall say, and I shall speak the truth,
Nor will I hide from thee that I have heard,
But lately from Ulysses, yet alive,
And journeying homeward, in the opulent realm
Of the Thesprotians, whence he brings with him
Much and rare treasure, gathered there among
The people. His beloved friends he lost,
And his good ship; the black deep swallowed them
In coming from Trinacria, for his crew
Had slaughtered there the oxen of the Sun.
The Sun and Jove were angry; therefore all
His comrades perished in the billowy sea;
But him upon his galley’s keel the wind
Drove to the coast where the Phaeacians dwell,
The kinsmen of the gods. They welcomed him,
And honored him as if he were a god,
And gave him many things, and would have sent
The hero safely to his native isle;
And here Ulysses would have been long since,
But that he deemed it wise to travel far,
And gather wealth⁠—for well Ulysses knew,
Beyond all other men, the arts of gain,
And none in these could think to rival him;
So Pheidon, king of the Thesprotians said,
Who also, in his palace, swore to me⁠—
As to the gods of heaven he poured the wine⁠—
That even then a galley was drawn down
Into the water, and already manned
With rowers, who should take Ulysses home.
But me he first dismissed, for at the time
A barque of the Thesprotians left the port,
Bound for Dulichium’s cornfields. Ere I went
He showed the treasures of Ulysses stored
In the king’s palace⁠—treasures that might serve
To feed the household of another chief
To the tenth generation. He who owned
That wealth was at Dodona, so the king
Declared, inquiring, at the lofty oak
Of Jupiter, the counsel of the god
How to return to his dear native land,
So long a wanderer⁠—whether openly
Or else by stealth. So he is safe, and soon
Will he be nearer to us; for not long
Can he remain away from all his friends
And fatherland. To this I plight my oath;
Let Jove, the greatest and the best of gods,
Be witness, and this hearth of the good prince
Ulysses, where I sit, that every word
Which I have said to thee will be fulfilled.
Within the year Ulysses will return,
As this month passes and the next comes in.”

Then spake the sage Penelope again:
“Would that it might be thus, O stranger guest,
As thou hast said; then shouldst thou have such thanks
And bounty at my hands that everyone
Who meets thee should rejoice with thee. And yet
The thought abides with me, and so indeed
It must be, that Ulysses will no more
Return, nor wilt thou find an escort hence;
For now no master like Ulysses rules⁠—
And what a man was he!⁠—within these walls,
To welcome or dismiss the honored guest.
But now, ye maidens, let the stranger bathe,
And spread his couch with blankets, fleecy cloaks,
And showy tapestries, that he may lie
Warm till the Morning, in her golden car,
Draw near; then with the early morn again
Bathe and anoint him, that he may sit down
Beside Telemachus prepared to take
His morning meal. Ill shall he fare who dares
Molest the stranger; he shall have no place
Or office here, however he may rage.
And how, O stranger, wouldst thou learn that I
In mind and thoughtful wisdom am above
All other women, if I let thee sit
Squalid and meanly clad at banquets here?
Short is the life of man, and whoso bears
A cruel heart, devising cruel things,
On him men call down evil from the gods
While living, and pursue him, when he dies,
With scoffs. But whoso is of generous heart
And harbors generous aims, his guests proclaim
His praises far and wide to all mankind,
And numberless are they who call him good.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“O gracious consort of Laertes’ son!
Such cloaks and splendid coverings please me not,
Since in my long-oared barque I left behind
The snowy peaks of Crete. I still will lie,
As I am wont through many a sleepless night,
On a mean couch to wait the holy Morn
Upon her car of gold. I do not like
This washing of the feet. No maiden here
That ministers to thee may touch my foot;
But if among them be some aged dame
And faithful, who has suffered in her life
As I have suffered, she may touch my feet.”

And thus the sage Penelope rejoined:
“Dear guest⁠—for never to these halls has come
A stranger so discreet or better liked
By me, so wisely thou dost speak, and well⁠—
I have an aged prudent dame, whose care
Reared my unfortunate husband. She received
The nursling when his mother brought him forth,
And she, though small her strength, will wash thy feet.
Rise, prudent Eurycleia, thou shalt wash
The feet of one whose years must be the same
As thy own master’s; such is doubtless now
Ulysses, with such wrinkled feet and hands.
For quickly doth misfortune make men old.”

She spake; the aged handmaid hid her face
With both her hands, and, shedding bitter tears,
Thus sorrowfully to the queen replied:⁠—

“My heart is sad for thee, my son; and yet
I can do nothing. Can it be that Jove
Hates thee beyond all other? though thyself
So reverent to the gods? No man on earth
Has burned so many thighs of fatling beasts
And chosen hecatombs as thou to Jove
The Thunderer, with prayer that thou mayst reach
A calm old age, and rear thy glorious son
To manhood; yet the god hath cut thee off
From thy return forever. Even now
Perchance the women of some princely house
Which he has entered in some distant land
Scoff at him as these wretched creatures scoff
At thee, O stranger, who, to shun their taunts
And insults, wilt not suffer them to wash
Thy feet. The sage Penelope commands,
And I am not unwilling. I will wash
Thy feet, both for her sake and for thy own;
For deeply am I moved at sight of thee.
Hear what I say: of strangers in distress
Come many hither, yet have I beheld
No one who bears, in shape and voice and feet,
Such likeness to our absent lord as thou.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, thus replied:
“O aged woman, so has it been said
By all who have beheld both him and me.
They all declare that we are very like
Each other; thou in this hast spoken well.”

He spake; she took a shining vase designed
For washing feet, and poured cold water in
In large abundance, and warm water next.
Ulysses, who had sat before the hearth,
Moved to a darker spot, for in his mind
The thought arose that she might find a scar
Upon his limbs in handling them, and thus
His secret would be known. She came and bathed
His feet, and found the scar. ’Twas where a boar
With his white tooth had gashed the limb, as once
He journeyed to Parnassus, where he paid
A visit to Autolycus and his sons,
His mother’s noble father, who excelled
All men in craft and oaths, such was the gift
Conferred on him by Hermes; for to him
Autolycus made grateful offerings,
The thighs of lambs and kids, and evermore
The god was with him. Once Autolycus
Came to the opulent realm of Ithaca,
And found his daughter with a son new born;
There Eurycleia placed upon his knees
The infant, just as he had supped, and said:⁠—

“Give this dear babe, Autolycus, a name⁠—
Thy daughter’s son, vouchsafed to many prayers.”

And thus Autolycus in answer spake:
“Daughter and son-in-law, be his the name
That I shall give. In coming to his isle
I bear the hate of many⁠—both of men
And women⁠—scattered o’er the nourishing earth;
Name him Ulysses therefore, and when, grown
To man’s estate, he visits the proud halls
Reared at Parnassus, where his mother dwelt
And my possessions lie, I will bestow
A share on him, and send him home rejoiced.”

And therefore went Ulysses to receive
The promised princely gifts. Autolycus
And all his sons received him with kind words,
And friendly grasp of hands. Amphithea there⁠—
His mother’s mother⁠—took him in her arms,
And kissed his brow and both his beautiful eyes.
Then to his noble sons Autolycus
Called to prepare a feast, and they obeyed.
They brought and slew a steer of five years old,
And flayed and dressed it, hewed the joints apart,
And sliced the flesh, and fixed it upon spits,
Roasted it carefully, and gave to each
His part. So all the day till set of sun
They feasted, to the full content of all.
And when the sun had set, and earth grew dark,
They laid them down, and took the gift of sleep.
But when the rosy-fingered Morn appeared,
Born of the Dawn, forth issued the young men,
The children of Autolycus, with hounds,
To hunt, attended by their noble guest,
Ulysses. Up the steeps of that high mount
Parnassus, clothed with woods, they climbed, and soon
Were on its airy heights. The sun, new risen
From the deep ocean’s gently flowing stream,
Now smote the fields. The hunters reached a dell;
The hounds before them tracked the game; behind
Followed the children of Autolycus.
The generous youth Ulysses, brandishing
A spear of mighty length, came pressing on
Close to the hounds. There lay a huge wild boar
Within a thicket, where moist-blowing winds
Came not, nor in his brightness could the sun
Pierce with his beams the covert, nor the rain
Pelt through, so closely grew the shrubs. The ground
Was heaped with sheddings of the withered leaves.
Around him came the noise of dogs and men
Approaching swiftly. From his lair he sprang
And faced them, with the bristles on his neck
Upright, and flashing eyes. Ulysses rushed
Before the others, with the ponderous spear
Raised high in his strong hand intent to smite.
The boar was first to strike; he dealt a blow
Sidelong, and gashed his foe above the knee,
And tore the flesh, but left untouched the bone.
Ulysses, striking with his burnished spear
The boar’s right shoulder, drove the weapon through.
He fell with piercing cries amid the dust,
And the life left him. Then around their guest
The kindly children of Autolycus
Came and bound up with care the wound, and stanched
With spells the dark blood of the blameless youth,
And hastened with him to their father’s home.
And when Autolycus and they his sons
Had seen him wholly healed, they loaded him
With presents, and, rejoicing for his sake,
Sent him rejoicing back to Ithaca.
His father and his gracious mother there
Rejoiced in turn, and asked him of the scar,
And how it came, and he related all⁠—
How by the white tusk of a savage boar
The wound was given on the Parnassian heights,
As he was hunting with her father’s sons.

The aged woman, as she took the foot
Into her hands, perceived by touch the scar,
And, letting fall the limb, it struck the vase.
Loud rang the brass, the vase was overturned,
And poured the water forth. At once a rush
Of gladness and of grief came o’er her heart.
Tears filled her eyes, and her clear voice was choked.
She touched Ulysses on the chin, and said:⁠—

“Dear child! thou art Ulysses, of a truth.
I knew thee not till I had touched the scar.”

So speaking, toward Penelope she turned
Her eyes, about to tell her that her lord
Was in the palace; but the queen saw not,
And all that passed was unperceived by her,
For Pallas turned her thoughts another way.
Meantime, Ulysses on the nurse’s throat
Laid his right hand, and with the other drew
The aged woman nearer him, and said:⁠—

“Nurse, wouldst thou ruin me, who drew long since
Milk from thy bosom, and who now return,
After much suffering borne for twenty years,
To mine own land? Now then, since thou hast learned
The truth⁠—by prompting of some god, no doubt⁠—
Keep silence, lest some others in the house
Should learn it also. Else⁠—I tell thee this,
And will perform my word⁠—if God permit
That I o’ercome the arrogant suitor-crew,
Nurse as thou art, I spare not even thee,
When in these halls the other maidens die.”

Then thus the prudent Eurycleia said:
“What words, my son, have passed thy lips? for well
Thou knowest my firm mind; it never yields.
Like solid rock or steel I keep my trust.
This let me tell thee, and, I pray thee, keep
My words in mind. If, by the aid of God,
Thou overcome the arrogant suitor-crew,
Then will I name the handmaids that disgrace
Thy household, and point out the innocent.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, thus rejoined:
“Why name them, nurse? It needs not. I myself
Shall watch them, and shall know them all. Hold thou
Thy peace, and leave the issue with the gods.”

He spake; the aged woman left the place
To bring a second bath, for on the floor
The first was spilled. When she had bathed his feet
And made them smooth with oil, Ulysses drew
Close to the hearth his seat again, to take
The warmth, and with his tatters hid the scar.
And thus the sage Penelope began:⁠—

“Stranger, but little longer will I yet
Inquire; the hour of grateful rest is near
For those who, though unhappy, can receive
The balm of slumber. Yet for me some god
Appoints immeasurable grief. All day
In sorrows and in sighs, my solace is
To oversee my maidens at their tasks
Here in the palace; but when evening comes,
And all betake themselves to rest, I lie
Upon my couch, and sorrows thick and sharp
Awake new misery in my heart. As when,
In the fresh spring, the swarthy Nightingale,
Daughter of Pandarus, among thick leaves
Sings sweetly to the woods, and, changing oft
The strain, pours forth her voice of many notes,
Lamenting the beloved Itylus,
Her son by royal Zethos, whom she smote
Unwittingly, and slew; with such quick change
My mind is tossed from thought to thought. I muse
Whether to keep my place beside my son,
And hold what here is mine, my dower, my maids
And high-roofed halls, as one who still reveres
Her husband’s bed, and heeds the public voice,
Or follow one of the Achaian chiefs,
The noblest of the wooers, and the one
Who offers marriage presents without stint.
My son’s green years, while he was yet a boy,
Unripe in mind, allowed me not to wed,
And leave his father’s home; but he is grown,
And on the verge of manhood. He desires
That I should leave the palace, for his wrath
Is great against the men who waste his wealth.
Hear, and interpret now a dream of mine:
Within these courts are twenty geese that eat
Corn from the water, and I look on them
Pleased and amused. From off a mountain came
A hook-beaked eagle, broke their necks, and left
Their bodies strewn about the palace dead,
And soared again into the air of heaven.
I wept and moaned, although it was a dream;
And round me came the fair-haired Grecian maids,
Lamenting wildly that the bird of prey
Had slain my geese. Then came the eagle back,
And took his perch upon the jutting roof,
And thus bespake me in a human voice:⁠—

“ ‘O daughter of Icarius, the renowned!
Let not thy heart be troubled; this is not
A dream, but a true vision, and will be
Fulfilled. The geese denote the suitor-train,
And I, who was an eagle once, am come,
Thy husband, now to end them utterly.’

“He spake; my slumbers left me, and I looked,
And saw the geese that in the palace still
Were at their trough, and feeding as before.”

And thus Ulysses, the sagacious, said:
“Lady, the dream that visited thy sleep
Cannot be wrested to another sense.
Ulysses has himself revealed to thee
The way of its fulfillment. Death is near
The suitors, and not one escapes his doom.”

Then spake the sage Penelope again:
“Of dreams, O stranger, some are meaningless
And idle, and can never be fulfilled.
Two portals are there for their shadowy shapes,
Of ivory one, and one of horn. The dreams
That come through the carved ivory deceive
With promises that never are made good;
But those which pass the doors of polished horn,
And are beheld of men, are ever true.
And yet I cannot hope that my strange dream
Came through them, though my son and I would both
Rejoice if it were so. This let me say,
And heed me well. Tomorrow brings to us
The hateful morn which takes me from my home,
The palace of Ulysses. I shall now
Propose a contest. In the palace court
Ulysses in a row set up twelve stakes,
Like props that hold a galley up; each stake
Had its own ring; he stood afar, and sent
An arrow through them all. I shall propose
This contest to the suitors. He who bends
The bow with easy mastery, and sends
Through the twelve rings an arrow, I will take
To follow from the palace where I passed
My youthful married life⁠—a beautiful home,
And stored with wealth; a home which I shall long
Remember, even in my nightly dreams.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“O gracious consort of Laertes’ son!
Let not this contest be delayed; the man
Of ready wiles, Ulysses, will be here
Ere, tampering with the hero’s polished bow,
The suitors shall prevail to stretch the cord,
And send an arrow through the rings of steel.”

And thus the sage Penelope rejoined:
“Stranger, if, sitting in the palace here,
Thou still wouldst entertain me as thou dost,
Sleep would not fall upon my lids; and yet
Sleepless the race of mortals cannot be,
So have the gods ordained, who measure out
His lot to man upon the nourishing earth.
I to the upper rooms withdraw, to take
My place upon the couch which has become
To me a place of sorrow and of tears
Since my Ulysses went away to Troy,
That fatal town which should be named no more.
And I will lay me down; but thou remain
Within these walls, and make the floor thy bed,
Or let these maidens spread a couch for thee.”

Penelope, thus having spoken, went
Up to her royal bower, but not alone;
Her maids went with her. When they were within
She wept for her dear husband, till at length
The blue-eyed Pallas graciously distilled
Upon her closing lids the balm of sleep.