Ulysses and Penelope After the Slaughter

Descent of Penelope to the hall⁠—Her doubts of the identity of Ulysses removed by evident tokens given by Ulysses⁠—Her transport at their removal⁠—His narrative of his adventures⁠—Departure of Ulysses with his son, the herdsman, and the swineherd, to the country.

Up to the royal bower the matron went
With an exulting heart, to tell the queen
That her beloved husband was within.
With knees that faltered not, and quick light step
She went, and, standing by her mistress, said:⁠—

“Awake, Penelope, dear child, and see
With thine own eyes what thou hast pined for long.
Ulysses has returned; thy lord is here,
Though late, and he has slain the arrogant crew
Of suitors, who disgraced his house, and made
His wealth a spoil, and dared insult his son.”

And thus discreet Penelope replied:
“The gods, dear nurse, have made thee mad; for they
Have power to change the wisest men to fools,
And make the foolish wise, and they have warped
Thy mind once sound. How canst thou mock me thus,
Amidst my sorrows, with such idle tales?
Why wake me from the pleasant sleep that closed
My lids so softly? Never have I slept
So sweetly since Ulysses went from me
To that bad city, which no tongue should name.
Go, then; return into the lower rooms.
Had any of my women save thyself
Brought such a message to disturb my sleep,
I would have sent her back into the hall
With angry words; thy years are thy excuse.”

But Eurycleia, the dear nurse, rejoined:
“Nay, my dear child, I mock thee not. Most true
It is that thy Ulysses has returned,
And here he is at home, as I have said.
The stranger whom they scoffed at in the hall
Is he; and long Telemachus has known
That he was here, but wisely kept from all
His father’s secret, till he should avenge
Upon those violent men their guilty deeds.”

She ended, and her mistress, overjoyed,
Sprang from her couch, embraced the aged dame,
And wept, and said to her in winged words:⁠—

“Tell me, dear nurse, and truly, if indeed
Ulysses have returned as thou hast said.
How smote he those proud suitors?⁠—he alone,
And they so many, gathered in the hall.”

And thus the well-beloved nurse replied:
“I saw it not, nor knew of it. I heard
Only the moanings of the slain, while we
The maids, affrighted, sat in a recess
Of that well-vaulted chamber; the firm doors
Closed us all in, until at length thy son,
Sent by his father, called me forth. I found
Ulysses standing midst the dead that lay
Heaped on each other, everywhere along
The solid pavement. Thou wouldst have rejoiced
To see him like a lion with the stains
Of slaughter on him. Now the suitors lie
Before the portals of the palace-court,
And he has kindled a great fire, and steeps
In smoke the noble hall. He bade me come
To call thee. Follow me, that ye may give
Your hearts to gladness⁠—for ye have endured
Great sorrows both, and your long-cherished hope
Is now fulfilled. He hath returned alive
To his dear home, and finds thee and his son
Yet in his palace, and hath terribly
Avenged himself upon the guilty men
Who under his own roof have done him wrong.”

Then spake the sage Penelope again:
“Beloved nurse, exult not overmuch,
Nor rashly boast. Well is it known to thee,
Were he to come beneath this roof again,
How welcome he would be to all, but most
To me and to the son to whom we gave
His being. Yet thy tidings are not true.
Someone of the immortals must have slain
The arrogant suitors, angry to behold
Their foul injustice and their many crimes;
For no respect had they to mortal man,
Good he might be, or bad, whome’er they met;
And therefore have they made an evil end.
But my Ulysses must have perished far
From Ithaca, cut off from his return.”

Then Eurycleia, the dear nurse, rejoined:
“What words are these, my child, that pass thy lips?
Sayst thou, then, that thy husband, who now stands
Upon thy hearthstone, never will return?
O slow of faith! but thou wert ever thus.
Come, then, I give a certain proof. I saw
Myself, when he was at the bath, the scar
Left on him by the white tusk of a boar,
And would have told thee, but he laid his hands
Upon my mouth, and would not suffer me
To bear the tidings, such his forecast was.
Now follow me; I give my life in pledge.
If I deceive thee, slay me ruthlessly.”

Then spake discreet Penelope again:
“Dear nurse, though thou in many things art wise,
Think not to scan the counsels of the gods,
Who live forever. Yet will we descend,
And meet my son, and look upon the slain,
And see the avenger by whose hand they fell.”

She spake, and from the royal bower went down,
Uncertain whether she should stand aloof
And question there her lord, or haste to him
And clasp his hands in hers and kiss his brow.
But having passed the threshold of hewn stone,
Entering she took her seat right opposite
Ulysses, in the full glow of the fire,
Against the other wall. Ulysses sat
Beside a lofty column with his eyes
Cast down, and waiting for his highborn wife
To speak when she had seen him. Long she sat
In silence, for amazement overpowered
Her senses. Sometimes, looking in his eyes,
She saw her husband there, and then again,
Clad in those sordid weeds, she knew him not.
Then spake Telemachus, and chid her thus:⁠—

“Mother, unfeeling mother! hard of heart
Art thou; how else couldst thou remain aloof?
How keep from taking, at my father’s side,
Thy place, to talk with him, and question him?
No other wife could bring herself to bear
Such distance from a husband, just returned
After long hardships, in the twentieth year
Of absence, to his native land and her.
Mother! thy heart is harder than a stone.”

And thus the sage Penelope replied:
“Dear child, my faculties are overpowered
With wonder, and I cannot question him,
Nor even speak to him, nor fix my looks
Upon his face. But if it be indeed
Ulysses, and he have returned, we soon
Shall know each other; there are tokens known
To both of us, to none but him and me.”

She ended, and the much-enduring chief
Ulysses, smiling at her words, bespake
Telemachus at once, in winged words:⁠—

“Suffer thy mother, O Telemachus,
To prove me; she will know me better soon.
My looks are sordid, and my limbs are wrapped
In tattered raiment, therefore does she think
Meanly of me, and cannot willingly
Believe that I am he. But let us now
Consider what most wisely may be done.
He who hath slain, among a tribe of men,
A single one with few to avenge his death,
Flees from his kindred and his native land;
But we have slain the champions of the realm,
The flower of all the youth of Ithaca.
Therefore, I pray thee, think what shall be done.”

And then disoreet Telemachus replied:
“Look thou to that, dear father; for they say
That thou of all mankind wert wont to give
The wisest counsels. None of mortal birth
In this was deemed thy peer. We follow thee
With cheerful hearts; nor will our courage fail,
I think, in aught that lies within our power.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Then will I tell thee what I deem most wise.
First take the bath, and then array yourselves
In tunics, bid the palace-maidens choose
Fresh garments; let the godlike bard, who bears
The clear-toned harp, be leader, and strike up
A melody to prompt the festive dance,
That all may say who hear it from without⁠—
Whether the passers by or dwellers near⁠—
‘It is a wedding.’ Else throughout the land
The rumor of the slaughter we have wrought
Among the suitors may have spread before
We reach our wooded farm, and there consult
Beneath the guidance of Olympian Jove.”

He spake; they hearkened and obeyed. They took
The bath, and then they put their garments on.
The maids arrayed themselves; the godlike bard
Took the curved harp, and woke in all the love
Of melody, and of the graceful dance.
The spacious pile resounded to the steps
Of men and shapely women in their mirth,
And one who stood without was heard to say:⁠—

“Someone, no doubt, has made the long-wooed queen
His bride at last; a worthless woman she,
Who could not, for the husband of her youth,
Keep his fair palace till he came again.”

Such words were said, but they who uttered them
Knew little what had passed. Eurynomè,
The matron of the palace, meantime took
Magnanimous Ulysses to the bath
In his own dwelling, smoothed his limbs with oil,
And threw a gorgeous mantle over him
And tunic. Pallas on the hero’s head
Shed grace and majesty; she made him seem
Taller and statelier, made his locks flow down
In curls like blossoms of the hyacinth,
As when a workman skilled in many arts,
And taught by Pallas and Minerva, twines
A golden border round the silver mass,
A glorious work; so did the goddess shed
Grace o’er his face and form. So from the bath
He stepped, like one of the immortals, took
The seat from which he rose, right opposite
Penelope, and thus addressed the queen:⁠—

“Lady, the dwellers of the Olympian heights
Have given thee an impenetrable heart
Beyond all other women. Sure I am
No other wife could bring herself to bear
Such distance from a husband just returned
After long hardships, in the twentieth year
Of absence, to his native land and her.
Come, nurse, prepare a bed, where by myself
I may lie down; an iron heart is hers.”

To this the sage Penelope replied:
“Nay, sir, ’tis not through pride or disregard,
Or through excess of wonder, that I act
Thus toward thee. Well do I remember thee
As thou wert in the day when thy good ship
Bore thee from Ithaca. Bestir thyself,
Dame Eurycleia, and make up with care
A bed without the chamber, which he framed
With his own hands; bear out the massive bed,
And lay upon it seemly coverings,
Fleeces and mantles for his nightly rest.”

She spake to try her husband; but, displeased,
Ulysses answered thus his virtuous queen:⁠—

“O woman, thou hast said unwelcome words.
Who hath displaced my bed? That task were hard
For long-experienced hands, unless some god
Had come to shift its place. No living man,
Even in his prime of years, could easily
Have moved it, for in that elaborate work
There was a mystery; it was I myself
Who shaped it, no one else. Within my court
There grew an olive-tree with full-leaved boughs,
A tall and flourishing tree; its massive stem
Was like a column. Round it I built up
A chamber with cemented stones until
The walls were finished; then I framed a roof
Above it, and put on the well-glued doors
Close fitting. Next I lopped the full-leaved boughs,
And, cutting off the trunk above the root,
Smoothed well the stump with tools, and made of it
A post to bear the couch. I bored the wood
With wimbles, placed on it the frame, and carved
The work till it was done, inlaying it
With silver, gold, and ivory. I stretched
Upon it thongs of oxhide brightly dyed
In purple. Now, O wife, I cannot know
Whether my bed remains as then it was,
Or whether someone from the root has hewn
The olive trunk, and moved it from its place.”

He spake, and her knees faltered and her heart
Was melted as she heard her lord recount
The tokens all so truly; and she wept,
And rose, and ran to him, and flung her arms
About his neck, and kissed his brow, and said:⁠—

“Ulysses, look not on me angrily,
Thou who in other things art wise above
All other men. The gods have made our lot
A hard one, jealous lest we should have passed
Our youth together happily, and thus
Have reached old age. I pray, be not incensed,
Nor take it ill that I embraced thee not
As soon as I beheld thee, for my heart
Has ever trembled lest someone who comes
Into this isle should cozen me with words;
And they who practise fraud are numberless.
The Argive Helen, child of Jupiter,
Would ne’er have listened to a stranger’s suit
And loved him, had she known that in the years
To come the warlike Greeks would bring her back
To her own land. It was a deity
Who prompted her to that foul wrong. Her thought
Was never of the great calamity
Which followed, and which brought such woe on us.
But now, since thou, by tokens clear and true,
Hast spoken of our bed, which human eye
Has never seen save mine and thine, and those
Of one handmaiden only, Actoris⁠—
Her whom my father gave me when I came
To this thy palace, and who kept the door
Of our close chamber⁠—thou hast won my mind
To full belief, though hard it was to win.”

She spake, and he was moved to tears; he wept
As in his arms he held his dearly loved
And faithful wife. As welcome as the land
To those who swim the deep, of whose stout barque
Neptune has made a wreck amidst the waves,
Tossed by the billow and the blast, and few
Are those who from the hoary ocean reach
The shore, their limbs all crested with the brine,
These gladly climb the sea-beach, and are safe⁠—
So welcome was her husband to her eyes.
Nor would her fair white arms release his neck,
And there would rosy-fingered Morn have found
Both weeping, but the blue-eyed Pallas planned
That thus it should not be; she stayed the night
When near its close, and held the golden Morn
Long in the ocean deeps, nor suffered her
To yoke her steeds that bring the light to men⁠—
Lampas and Phaëthon, swift steeds that bear
The Morning on her way. Ulysses then,
The man of forecast, thus bespake his queen:⁠—

“Not yet, O wife, have we attained the close
Of all our labors. One remains which yet
I must achieve, toilsome, and measureless
In difficulty; for so prophesied
The spirit of Tiresias, on the day
When to the abode of Pluto I went down
To ask the seer concerning the return
Of my companions, and my own. But now
Seek we our couch, dear wife, that, softly laid,
We may refresh ourselves with welcome sleep.”

Then spake in turn the sage Penelope:
“Whenever thou desirest it thy couch
Shall be made ready, since the gods vouchsafe
To bring thee back into thy pleasant home
And to thy native land. But now that thou
Hast spoken of it, and some deity
Is prompting thee, declare what this new task
May be. Hereafter I shall hear of it,
No doubt, nor were it worse to know it now.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Dear wife, why wilt thou ask? why press me thus?
Yet will I tell thee truly, nor will keep
Aught from thee, though thou wilt not gladly hear,
Nor I relate. Tiresias bade me pass
Through city after city, till I found
A people who know not the sea, nor eat
Their food with salt, who never yet beheld
The red-prowed galley, nor the shapely oars,
Which are the wings of ships. And this plain sign
He gave, nor will I keep it back from thee,
That when another traveller whom I meet
Shall say it is a winnowing-fan I bear
On my stout shoulder, there he bade me plant
The oar upright in earth, and offer up
To monarch Neptune there a ram, a bull,
And sturdy boar, and then, returning home,
Burn hallowed hecatombs to all the gods
Who dwell in the broad heaven, each one in turn.
At last will death come over me, afar
From ocean, such a death as peacefully
Shall take me off in a serene old age,
Amid a people prosperous and content
All this, the prophet said, will come to pass.”

And then the sage Penelope rejoined:
“If thus the immortals make thy later age
The happier, there is hope that thou wilt find
Escape from evil in the years to come.”

So talked they with each other. Meantime went
Eurynomè, attended by the nurse,
And in the light of blazing torches dressed
With soft fresh drapery a bed; and when
Their busy hands had made it full and high,
The aged dame withdrew to take her rest
In her own chamber, while Eurynomè,
Who kept the royal bower, upheld a torch
And thither led the pair, and, when they both
Were in the chamber, went her way. They took
Their place delighted in the ancient bed.
The prince, the herdsman, and the swineherd ceased
Meantime to tread the dance, and bade the maids
Cease also, and within the palace-rooms
Dark with night’s shadow, sought their place of rest.
Then came the time of pleasant mutual talk,
In which that noblest among women spake
Of wrongs endured beneath her roof from those
Who came to woo her⁠—an insatiate crew⁠—
Who made of beeves and fatlings of the flock
Large slaughter, and drained many a wine-cask dry.
Then nobly born Ulysses told what woes
His valor brought on other men; what toils
And suffering he had borne; he told her all,
And she, delighted, heard him, nor did sleep
Light on her eyelids till his tale was done.

And first he told her how he overcame
The people of Ciconia; how he passed
Thence to the rich fields of the race who feed
Upon the lotus; what the Cyclops did,
And how upon the Cyclops he avenged
The death of his brave comrades, whom the wretch
Had piteously slaughtered and devoured.
And how he came to Aeolus, and found
A friendly welcome, and was sent by him
Upon his voyage; yet ’twas not his fate
To reach his native land; a tempest caught
His fleet, and far across the fishy deep
Bore him away, lamenting bitterly.
And how he landed at Telepylus,
Among the Laestrigonians, who destroyed
His ships and warlike comrades, he alone
In his black ship escaping. Then he told
Of Circè, her deceit and many arts,
And how he went to Pluto’s dismal realm
In his good galley, to consult the soul
Of him of Thebes, Tiresias, and beheld
All his lost comrades and his mother⁠—her
Who brought him forth, and trained him when a child.
And how he heard the Sirens afterward,
And how he came upon the wandering rocks,
The terrible Charybdis, and the crags
Of Scylla⁠—which no man had ever passed
In safety; how his comrades slew for food
The oxen of the Sun; how Jupiter,
The Thunderer, with a bolt of fire from heaven
Smote his swift barque; and how his gallant crew
All perished, he alone escaped with life.
And how he reached Ogygia’s isle, he told,
And met the nymph Calypso, who desired
That he would be her husband, and long time
Detained and fed him in her vaulted grot,
And promised that he ne’er should die, nor know
Decay of age, through all the days to come;
Yet moved she not the purpose of his heart.
And how he next through many hardships came
To the Phaeacians, and they welcomed him
And honored him as if he were a god,
And to his native country in a barque
Sent him with ample gifts of brass and gold
And raiment. As he uttered this last word,
Sleep softly overcame him; all his limbs
Lay loose in rest, and all his cares were calmed.

The blue-eyed Pallas had yet new designs;
And when she deemed Ulysses was refreshed
With rest and sleep, in that accustomed bed,
She called the Morning, daughter of the Dawn,
To rise from ocean in her car of gold,
And shed her light on men. Ulysses rose
From his soft couch, and thus enjoined his spouse:⁠—

“O wife! enough of misery have we borne
Already⁠—thou in weeping for my long
Unhappy absence⁠—I for years withheld
By Jupiter and all the other gods
From my return to this dear land, although
I pined for home. Now since upon this couch
We take the place so earnestly desired,
Take thou the charge of all that I possess
Here in the palace. For the herds and flocks
Which those high-handed suitors have devoured,
I shall seize many others as a spoil;
The rest the Greeks will bring me, till my stalls
Are filled again. I hasten to my farm
Embowered in trees, to greet the aged man
My excellent father, who continually
Grieves for me. Prudent as thou art, I give
This charge; a rumor, with the rising sun,
Will quickly go abroad that I have slain
The suitors in the palace. Now withdraw,
Thou and thy maidens, to the upper room,
And sit and look not forth, nor ask of aught.”

So spake the chief, and on his shoulders braced
His glorious armor. Then he called his son,
The herdsman, and the swineherd, bidding them
To take in hand their weapons. They obeyed,
And, having armed themselves in brass, they threw
The portals open. As they all went forth,
Ulysses led the way. The early light
Was on the earth, but Pallas, shrouding them
In darkness, led them quickly through the town.