Book II

Departure of Telemachus from Ithaca

The chief men of Ithaca assembled by Telemachus⁠—His complaint of the suitors⁠—Their attempt to justify themselves⁠—Prophecy of the return of Ulysses by the seer, Halitherses⁠—Request of Telemachus for a vessel to visit Pylos and Sparta, in quest of his father, granted by the assembly⁠—Preparations for his departure.

Now when the Morning, child of Dawn, appeared,
The dear son of Ulysses left his bed
And put his garments on. His trenchant sword
He hung upon his shoulders, and made fast
His shapely sandals to his shining feet,
And issued from his chamber like a god.
At once he bade the clear-voiced heralds call
The long-haired Greeks to council. They obeyed,
Quickly the chiefs assembled, and when all
Were at the appointed place, Telemachus
Went to the council, bearing in his hand
A brazen spear, yet went he not alone.
Two swift dogs followed him, while Pallas shed
A heavenly beauty over him, and all
Admired him as he came. He took the seat
Of his great father, and the aged men
Made way for him. And then Aegyptius spake⁠—
A hero bowed with age, who much had seen
And known. His son, the warlike Antiphus,
Went with the great Ulysses in his fleet
To courser-breeding Troy, and afterward
The cruel Cyclops, in the vaulted cave,
Slew him for his last meal. Three other sons
There were, and one of these, Eurynomus,
Was of the suitor train; the others took
Charge of their father’s acres. Never yet
Had he forgotten his lost son or ceased
To grieve for him, and as he spoke he wept

“Hear, men of Ithaca, what I shall say.
No council, no assembly, have we held
Since great Ulysses in his roomy ships
Departed from our isle. Who now is he
That summons us? On which of our young men
Or elders presses this necessity?
Is it belike that one of you has heard
Of an approaching foe, and can declare
The tidings clearly? Or would he propose
And urge some other matter which concerns
The public weal? A just and generous mind
I deem is his, and ’tis my hope that Jove
Will bring to pass the good at which he aims.”

As thus he spake Ulysses’ son rejoiced
In his auspicious words, nor longer kept
His seat, but, yielding to an inward force,
Rose midst them all to speak, while in his hand
Pisenor, the sagacious counsellor
And herald, placed the sceptre. Then he turned
To the old man, Aegyptius, speaking thus:⁠—

“O aged man, not far from thee is he
Who called this council, as thou soon shalt know
Mine chiefly is the trouble; I have brought
No news of an approaching foe, which I
Was first to hear, and would declare to all,
Nor urge I other matters which concern
The public weal; my own necessity⁠—
The evil that has fallen on my house⁠—
Constrains me; it is twofold. First, that I
Have lost an excellent father, who was king
Among you, and ruled o’er you with a sway
As gentle as a father’s. Greater yet
Is the next evil, and will soon o’erthrow
My house and waste my substance utterly.
Suitors, the sons of those who, in our isle,
Hold the chief rank, importunately press
Round my unwilling mother. They disdain
To ask her of Icarius, that the king
Her father may endow her, and bestow
His daughter on the man who best may gain
His favor, but with every day they come
Into our palace, sacrificing here
Oxen and sheep and fatling goats, and hold
High festival, and drink the purple wine
Unstinted, with unbounded waste; for here
Is no man like Ulysses to repel
The mischief from my house. Not such are we
As he was, to resist the wrong. We pass
For weaklings, immature in valor, yet
If I had but the power, assuredly
I would resist, for by these men are done
Insufferable things, nor does my house
Perish with honor. Ye yourselves should feel
Shame at these doings; ye should dread reproach
From those who dwell around us, and should fear
The offended gods, lest they repay these crimes
With vengeance. I beseech you, O my friends,
Both by Olympian Jove, and her by whom
Councils of men are summoned and dissolved⁠—
The goddess Themis⁠—that ye all refrain,
And leave me to my grief alone, unless
Ulysses, my great father, may have done
Wrong in his anger to the gallant Greeks,
Which ye, by prompting men to acts like these,
Seek to avenge on me. Far better ’twere,
Should ye yourselves destroy our goods and slay
Our herds, since, were it so, there might in time
Be some requital. We, from street to street,
Would plead continually for recompense,
Till all should be restored. But now ye heap
Upon me wrongs for which is no redress.”

Thus angrily he spake, and clashed to earth
The sceptre, shedding tears. The people felt
Compassion; all were silent for a space,
And there was none who dared with railing words
Answer Telemachus, save one alone,
Antinoüs, who arose and thus replied:⁠—

“Telemachus, thou youth of braggart speech
And boundless in abuse, what hast thou said
To our dishonor? Thou wouldst fix on us
A brand of shame. The blame is not with us,
The Achaian suitors; ’tis thy mother’s fault,
Skilled as she is in crafty shifts. ’Tis now
Already the third year, and soon will be
The fourth, since she began to cozen us.
She gives us all to hope, and sends fair words
To each by message, yet in her own mind
Has other purposes. This shrewd device
She planned; she laid upon the loom a web,
Delicate, wide, and vast in length, and said
Thus to us all: ‘Young princes, who are come
To woo me, since Ulysses is no more⁠—
My noble husband⁠—urge me not, I pray,
To marriage, till I finish in the loom⁠—
That so my threads may not be spun in vain⁠—
A funeral vesture for the hero-chief
Laertes, when his fatal hour shall come
With death’s long sleep. Else some Achaian dame
Might blame me, should I leave without a shroud
Him who in life possessed such ample wealth!’
Such were her words, and easily they wrought
Upon our generous minds. So went she on,
Weaving that ample web, and every night
Unravelled it by torchlight. Three full years
She practised thus, and by the fraud deceived
The Grecian youths; but when the hours had brought
The fourth year round, a woman who knew all
Revealed the mystery, and we ourselves
Saw her unravelling the ample web.
Thenceforth, constrained, and with unwilling hands,
She finished it. Now let the suitors make
Their answer to thy words, that thou mayst know
Our purpose fully, and the Achaians all
May know it likewise. Send thy mother hence,
Requiring that she wed the suitor whom
Her father chooses and herself prefers.
But if she still go on to treat the sons
Of Greece with such despite, too confident
In gifts which Pallas has bestowed on her
So richly, noble arts, and faculties
Of mind, and crafty shifts, beyond all those
Of whom we ever heard that lived of yore,
The bright-haired ladies of the Achaian race,
Tyro, Alcmena, and Mycenè, famed
For glossy tresses, none of them endowed
As is Penelope, though this last shift
Be ill devised⁠—so long will we consume
Thy substance and estate as she shall hold
Her present mood, the purpose which the gods
Have planted in her breast. She to herself
Gains great renown, but surely brings on thee
Loss of much goods. And now we go not hence
To our affairs nor elsewhere, till she wed
Whichever of the Greeks may please her most.”

And then rejoined discreet Telemachus:⁠—
“Antinoüs, grievous wrong it were to send
Unwilling from this palace her who bore
And nursed me. Whether he be living yet
Or dead, my father is in distant lands;
And should I, of my own accord and will,
Dismiss my mother, I must make perforce
Icarius large amends, and that were hard.
And he would do me mischief, and the gods
Would send yet other evils on my head.
For then my mother, going forth, would call
On the grim Furies, and the general curse
Of all men would be on me. Think not I
Will ever speak that word. But if ye bear
A sense of injury for what is past,
Go from these halls; provide for other feasts,
Consuming what is yours, and visiting
Each other’s homes in turn. But if it seem
To you the wiser and the better way
To plunder one man’s goods, go on to waste
My substance. I shall call the eternal gods
To aid me, and, if Jupiter allow
Fit retribution for your crimes, ye die
Within this very palace unavenged.”

So spake Telemachus. The Thunderer, Jove,
Sent flying from a lofty mountain-top
Two eagles. First they floated on the wind
Close to each other, and with wings outspread;
But as they came to where the murmuring crowd
Was gathered just beneath their flight, they turned
And clapped their heavy pinions, looking down
With deadly omen on the heads below,
And with their talons tore each other’s cheeks
And necks, and then they darted to the right
Away through Ithaca among its roofs.
All who beheld the eagles were amazed,
And wondered what event was near at hand.
Among the rest an aged hero spake,
Named Halitherses, Mastor’s son. He knew
More truly than the others of his age,
To augur from the flight of birds, and read
The will of fate⁠—and wisely thus he spake:⁠—

“Hear, men of Ithaca, what I shall say.
I speak of what most narrowly concerns
The suitors, over whom already hangs
Great peril, for Ulysses will not be
Long at a distance from his home and friends.
Even now he is not far, and meditates
Slaughter and death to all the suitor train;
And evil will ensue to many more
Of us, who dwell in sunny Ithaca.
Now let us think what measures may restrain
These men⁠—or let them of their own accord
Desist⁠—the soonest were for them the best.
For not as one untaught do I foretell
Events to come, but speak of what I know.
All things that I predicted to our chief,
What time the Argive troops embarked for Troy,
And sage Ulysses with them, are fulfilled;
I said that after many hardships borne,
And all his comrades lost, the twentieth year
Would bring him back, a stranger to us all⁠—
And all that then I spake of comes to pass.”

Eurymachus, the son of Polybus,
Answered the seer: “Go to thy house, old man,
And to thy boys, and prophesy to them,
Lest evil come upon them. I can act,
In matters such as these, a prophet’s part
Better than thou. True, there are many birds
That fly about in sunshine, but not all
Are ominous. Ulysses far away
Has perished; well it would have been if thou
Hadst perished with him; then thou wouldst not prate
Idly of things to come, nor wouldst thou stir
Telemachus to anger, in the hope
Of bearing to thy house some gift from him.
Now let me say, and be assured my words
Will be fulfilled: experienced as thou art,
If thou by treacherous speeches shalt inflame
A younger man than thou to violent deeds,
The sharper punishment shall first be his,
But we will lay on thee a penalty,
Old man, which thou shalt find it hard to bear,
And bitterly wilt thou repent. And now
Let me persuade Telemachus to send
His mother to her father. They will make
A marriage for her there, and give with her
A liberal dowry, such as may become
A favorite daughter on her wedding-day,
Else never will the sons of Greece renounce,
I think, the difficult suit. We do not fear
Telemachus himself, though glib of speech,
Nor care we for the empty oracle
Which thou, old man, dost utter, making thee
Only more hated. Still will his estate
Be wasted, nor will order e’er return
While she defers her marriage with some prince
Of the Achaians. We shall urge our suit
For that most excellent of womankind
As rivals, nor withdraw to seek the hand
Of others, whom we fitly might espouse.”

To this discreet Telemachus replied:⁠—
“Eurymachus, and ye, the illustrious train
Of suitors, I have nothing more to ask⁠—
No more to say⁠—for now the gods and all
The Achaians know the truth. But let me have
A gallant barque, and twenty men to make
From coast to coast a voyage, visiting
Sparta and sandy Pylos, to inquire
For my long-absent father, and the chance
Of his return, if any of mankind
Can tell me aught, or if some rumor come
From Jove, since thus are tidings often brought
To human knowledge. Should I learn that yet
He lives and may return, I then would wait
A twelvemonth, though impatient. Should I hear
That he no longer lives, I shall return
Homeward, and pile his monument on high
With funeral honors that become the dead,
And give my mother to a second spouse.”

He spake and took his seat, and then arose
Mentor, once comrade of the excellent chief
Ulysses, who, departing with his fleet,
Consigned his household to the aged man,
That they should all obey him, and that he
Should safely keep his charge. He rose amid
The assembly, and addressed them wisely thus:⁠—

“Hear and attend, ye men of Ithaca,
To what I say. Let never sceptred king
Henceforth be gracious, mild, and merciful,
And righteous; rather be he deaf to prayer
And prone to deeds of wrong, since no one now
Remembers the divine Ulysses more,
Among the people over whom he ruled
Benignly like a father. Yet I bear
No envy to the haughty suitors here,
Moved as they are to deeds of violence
By evil counsels, since, in pillaging
The substance of Ulysses, who they say
Will nevermore return, they risk their lives.
But I am angry with the rest, with all
Of you who sit here mute, nor even with words
Of stern reproof restrain their violence,
Though ye so many are and they so few.”

Leiocritus, Evenor’s son, rejoined:⁠—
“Malicious Mentor, foolish man! what talk
Is this of holding us in check? ’Twere hard
For numbers even greater than our own
To drive us from a feast. And should the prince
Of Ithaca, Ulysses, come himself,
Thinking to thrust the illustrious suitors forth
That banquet in these palace halls, his queen
Would have no cause for joy at his return,
Greatly as she desired it. He would draw
Sure death upon himself in strife with us
Who are so many. Thou hast spoken ill.
Now let the people who are gathered here
Disperse to their employments. We will leave
Mentor and Halitherses, who were both
His father’s early comrades, to provide
For the youth’s voyage. He will yet remain
A long time here, I think, to ask for news
In Ithaca, and never will set sail.”

Thus having said, he instantly dismissed
The people; they departed to their homes;
The suitors sought the palace of the prince.

Then to the ocean-side, apart from all,
Went forth Telemachus, and washed his hands
In the gray surf, and prayed to Pallas thus:⁠—

“Hear me, thou deity who yesterday,
In visiting our palace, didst command
That I should traverse the black deep to learn
News of my absent father, and the chance
Of his return! The Greeks themselves withstand,
My purpose; the proud suitors most of all.”

Such was his prayer, and straightway Pallas stood,
In form and voice like Mentor, by his side,
And thus accosted him with winged words:⁠—

“Telemachus, thou henceforth shalt not lack
Valor or wisdom. If with thee abides
Thy father’s gallant spirit, as he was
In deed and word, thou wilt not vainly make
This voyage. But if thou be not in truth
The son of him and of Penelope,
Then I rely not on thee to perform
What thou dost meditate. Few sons are like
Their fathers: most are worse, a very few
Excel their parents. Since thou wilt not lack
Valor and wisdom in the coming time,
Nor is thy father’s shrewdness wanting quite
In thee, great hope there is that happily
This plan will be fulfilled. Regard not then
The suitor train, their purposes and plots.
Senseless are they, as little wise as just,
And have no thought of the black doom of death
Now drawing near to sweep them in a day
To their destruction. But thy enterprise
Must suffer no delay. So much am I
Thy father’s friend and thine, that I will cause
A swift barque to be fitted out for sea,
And will myself attend thee. Go now hence
Among the suitors, and make ready there
The needful stores, and let them all be put
In vessels⁠—wine in jars, and meal, the strength
Of man, in close thick skins⁠—while I engage,
Among the people here, a willing crew.
Ships are there in our seagirt Ithaca
Full many, new and old, and I will choose
The best of these, and see it well equipped.
Then will we drag it down to the broad sea.”

Thus Pallas spake, the child of Jupiter.
Telemachus obeyed the heavenly voice,
And stayed not; home he hastened, where he saw
Sadly the arrogant suitors in the hall,
Busily flaying goats and roasting swine.
Antinoüs, laughing, came to meet the youth.
And fastened on his hand, and thus he spake:⁠—

“Telemachus, thou youth of lofty speech
And boundless in abuse, let neither word
Nor deed that may displease thee vex thy heart,
But gayly eat and drink as thou wert wont.
The Achaians generously will provide
Whatever thou requirest, ship and men⁠—
All chosen rowers⁠—that thou mayst arrive
Sooner at sacred Pylos, there to learn
Tidings of thy illustrious father’s fate.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus in turn:⁠—
“Antinoüs, never could I sit with you,
Arrogant ones! in silence nor enjoy
The feast in quiet. Is it not enough,
O suitors, that while I was yet a child
Ye wasted on your revelries my large
And rich possessions? Now that I am grown,
And, when I hear the words of other men,
Discern their meaning, now that every day
Strengthens my spirit, I will make the attempt
To bring the evil fates upon your heads,
Whether I go to Pylos or remain
Among this people. I shall surely make
This voyage, and it will not be in vain.
Although I go a passenger on board
Another’s ship⁠—since neither ship have I
Nor rowers⁠—ye have judged that so were best.”

He spake, and quickly from the suitor’s hand
Withdrew his own. The others who prepared
Their banquet in the palace scoffed at him,
And flung at him their bitter taunts, and one
Among the insolent youths reviled him thus:⁠—

“Telemachus is certainly resolved
To butcher us. He goes to bring allies
From sandy Pylos or the Spartan coast,
He is so bent on slaughter. Or perhaps
He visits the rich land of Ephyrè
In search of deadly poisons to be thrown
Into a cup and end us all at once.”

Then said another of the haughty youths:⁠—
“Who knows but, wandering in his hollow barque,
He too may perish, far from all his friends,
Just as Ulysses perished? This would bring
Increase of labor; it would cast on us
The trouble to divide his goods, and give
His palace to his mother, and to him
Who takes the woman as his wedded wife.”

So spake they, but Telemachus went down
To that high-vaulted room, his father’s, where
Lay heaps of gold and brass, and garments store
In chests, and fragrant oils. And there stood casks
Of delicate old wine and pure, a drink
For gods, in rows against the wall, to wait
If ever, after many hardships borne,
Ulysses should return. Upon that room
Close-fitting double doors were shut, and there
Was one who night and day kept diligent watch,
A woman, Eurycleia, child of Ops,
Peisenor’s son. Telemachus went in
And called her to him, and bespake her thus:⁠—

“Nurse, let sweet wine be drawn into my jars,
The finest next to that which thou dost keep
Expecting our unhappy lord, if yet
The nobly born Ulysses shall escape
The doom of death and come to us again.
Fill twelve, and fit the covers close, and pour
Meal into well-sewn skins, and let the tale
Be twenty measures of the flour of wheat.
This none but thou must know. Let all these things
Be brought together; then, as night shuts in,
When to her upper chamber, seeking rest,
My mother shall withdraw, I come and take
What thou providest for me. I am bound
For Sparta and for Pylos in the sands,
To gather news concerning the return
Of my dear father, if I haply may.”

So spake the youth, and his beloved nurse
Sobbed, wept aloud, and spake these winged words:⁠—

“Why should there come, dear child, a thought like this
Into thy heart. Why wouldst thou wander forth
To distant regions⁠—thou an only son
And dearly loved? Ulysses, nobly born,
Has perished, from his native land afar,
’Mid a strange race. These men, when thou art gone,
At once will lay their plots to take thy life,
And share thy wealth among them. Stay thou here
Among thy people; need is none that thou
Shouldst suffer, roaming o’er the barren deep.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:⁠—
“Be of good cheer, O nurse, for my design
Is not without the sanction of a god;
But swear thou not to let my mother know
Of my intent until the eleventh day
Or twelfth shall pass, or till, in missing me,
She learn of my departure, lest she weep
And stain with tears the beauty of her face.”

He spake; the ancient woman solemnly
Swore by the gods, and when the rite was o’er
Drew wine into the jars, and poured the meal
Into the well-sewn skins. Telemachus
Entered the hall and joined the suitor train.

Then did the blue-eyed goddess turn her thoughts
To other plans, and taking on herself
The semblance of Telemachus, she ranged
The city, speaking to each man in turn,
And bidding him at nightfall to repair
To where the good ship lay. That gallant ship
She begged of the renowned Noëmon, son
Of Phronius, who with cheerful grace complied.

The sun went down, the city streets lay all
In shadow. Then she drew the good ship down
Into the sea, and brought and put on board
The appointments every well-built galley needs,
And moored her at the bottom of the port,
Where, in a throng, obedient to the word
Of Pallas, round her came her gallant crew.

With yet a new device the blue-eyed maid
Went to the palace of the godlike chief
Ulysses, where she poured a gentle sleep
Over the suitors. As they drank she made
Their senses wander, and their hands let fall
The goblets. Now no longer at the board
They sat, but sallied forth, and through the town
Went to their slumbers, for the power of sleep
Had fallen heavily upon their lids.
Then blue-eyed Pallas from those sumptuous halls
Summoned Telemachus. She took the form
And voice of Mentor, and bespake him thus:⁠—

“Telemachus, already at their oars
Sit thy well-armed companions and await
Thy coming; let us go without delay.”

Thus having spoken, Pallas led the way
With rapid footsteps which he followed fast;
Till having reached the galley and the sea
They found their long-haired comrades at the beach,
And thus the gallant prince Telemachus
Bespake them: “Hither, comrades, let us bring
The sea-stores from the dwelling where they lie;
My mother knows not of it, nor her maids;
The secret has been told to one alone.”

He spake, and went before them. In his steps
They followed. To the gallant barque they brought
The stores, and, as the well-beloved son
Of King Ulysses bade, they laid them down
Within the hull. Telemachus went up
The vessel’s side, but Pallas first embarked,
And at the stern sat down, while next to her
Telemachus was seated. Then the crew
Cast loose the fastenings and went all on board,
And took their places on the rowers’ seats,
While blue-eyed Pallas sent a favoring breeze,
A fresh wind from the west, that murmuring swept
The dark-blue main. Telemachus gave forth
The word to wield the tackle; they obeyed,
And raised the fir-tree mast, and, fitting it
Into its socket, bound it fast with cords,
And drew and spread with firmly twisted ropes
The shining sails on high. The steady wind
Swelled out the canvas in the midst; the ship
Moved on, the dark sea roaring round her keel,
As swiftly through the waves she cleft her way.
And when the rigging of that swift black ship
Was firmly in its place, they filled their cups
With wine, and to the ever-living gods
Poured out libations, most of all to one,
Jove’s blue-eyed daughter. Thus through all that night
And all the ensuing morn they held their way.