Book IV

Conference of Telemachus and Menelaus

Arrival of Telemachus and his companion at Sparta⁠—A wedding; the marriage of the daughter of Menelaus⁠—Helen in Sparta⁠—Entertainment of the guests⁠—Helen’s account of her return to her husband⁠—The Trojan horse⁠—Narrative of the visit of Menelaus to Egypt, in order to consult the sea-god, Proteus⁠—Menelaus informed by him that Ulysses is detained by Calypso in her island⁠—Plot of the suitors to lie in wait for Telemachus on his voyage and destroy him⁠—Penelope visited and consoled by Pallas in a dream.

They came to Lacedaemon’s valley, seamed
With dells, and to the palace of its king,
The glorious Menelaus, whom they found
Within, and at a wedding banquet, made
Both for his blameless daughter and his son,
And many guests. Her he must send away,
Bride of the son of that invincible chief,
Achilles. He betrothed her while in Troy,
And gave his kingly word, and now the gods
Fulfilled it by the marriage. He was now
Sending her forth, with steeds and cars, to reach
The noble city of the Myrmidons,
Where ruled her consort. From the Spartan coast
He brought Alector’s daughter for his son,
The gallant Megapenthes, borne to him
By a handmaiden in his later years.
For not to Helen had the gods vouchsafed
Yet other offspring, after she had brought
A lovely daughter forth, Hermione,
Like golden Venus both in face and form.

So banqueting the neighbors and the friends
Of glorious Menelaus sat beneath
The lofty ceiling of those spacious halls,
Delighted with the feast. A sacred bard
Amidst them touched the harp and sang to them
While, as the song began, two dancers sprang
Into the midst and trod the measure there

But they⁠—the hero-youth Telemachus
And Nestor’s eminent son⁠—were at the gate,
And standing in the entrance with their steeds.
The worthy Eteoneus, coming forth⁠—
The trusty servant of the glorious son
Of Atreus⁠—saw, and hastening thence to tell
The shepherd of the people, through the hall
He came to him, and spake these winged words:⁠—

“O Menelaus, foster-child of Jove,
Two strangers have arrived, two men who seem
Descended from almighty Jupiter.
Shall we then loose the harness from their steeds,
Or bid them elsewhere seek a friendly host?”

The fair-haired king indignantly replied:⁠—
“Nay, Eteoneus, thou hast not been wont.
Son of Boëthus, thus to play the fool.
Thou pratest idly, like a child. Ourselves
Have sat, as guests, at generous banquets given
By other men, when journeying hitherward
In hope that Jove might grant a respite here
From our disasters. Hasten, then, to loose
The steeds, and bring the strangers to the feast.”

He spake; the attendant hastened forth and called
The other trusty servitors, with charge
To follow. They unyoked the sweaty steeds,
And bound them to the stalls, and gave them oats,
With which they mingled the white barley-grains,
And close against the shining wall they placed
The car, and then they led the guests within
The sumptuous palace. Entering, these admired
The palace of the foster-child of Jove,
For like the splendor of the sun and moon
Its glory was. They with delighted eyes
Gazed, and, descending to the polished baths,
They bathed. The attendant maids who at the bath
Had ministered, anointing them with oil,
Arrayed the stranger guests in fleecy cloaks
And tunics. Each sat down upon a throne
Near to Atrides. Now a handmaid brought
A beautiful ewer of gold, and laver wrought
Of silver, and poured water for their hands,
And spread a polished table near their seat;
The reverend matron of the household came
With bread, and set before them many a dish
Gathered from all the feast. The carver next
Brought chargers lifted high, and in them meats
Of every flavor, and before them placed
Beakers of gold. The fair-haired monarch gave
His hand to each, and then bespake them thus:⁠—

“Now taste our banquet and rejoice, and when
Ye are refreshed with food we will inquire
Who ye may be; for ye are not of those
Whose race degenerates, ye are surely born
Of sceptred kings, the favorites of Jove.
Ignoble men have never sons like you.”

Thus having said, and taking in his hands
A fatling bullock’s chine, which menials brought
Roasted, and placed beside the king in sign
Of honor, this he laid before his guests.
And they put forth their hands and banqueted;
And when the calls of hunger and of thirst
At length were stilled, Telemachus inclined
His head toward Nestor’s son, that no one else
Might listen to his words, and thus he said:⁠—

“See, son of Nestor, my beloved friend,
In all these echoing rooms the sheen of brass,
Of gold, of amber, and of ivory;
Such is the palace of Olympian Jove
Within its walls. How many things are here
Of priceless worth! I wonder as I gaze.”

The fair-haired Menelaus heard him speak,
And thus accosted both with winged words:⁠—

“Dear sons, no mortal man may vie with Jove,
Whose palace and possessions never know
Decay, but other men may vie or not
In wealth with me. ’Twas after suffering
And wandering long that in my fleet I brought
My wealth with me, and landed on this coast
In the eighth year. For I had roamed afar
To Cyprus and to Phoenicè, and where
The Egyptians dwell, and Ethiopia’s sons,
And the Sidonians, and the Erembian race,
And to the coast of Lybia, where the lambs
Are yeaned with budding horns. There do the ewes
Thrice in the circle of the year bring forth
Their young. There both the master of the herd
And herdsman know no lack of cheese, or flesh,
Or of sweet milk; for there the herds yield milk
The whole year round. While I was roaming thus,
And gathering store of wealth, another slew
My brother, unforewarned, and through the fraud
Of his own guilty consort. Therefore small
Is the content I find in bearing rule
O’er these possessions. Ye have doubtless heard
This from your parents, be they who they may;
For much have I endured, and I have lost
A palace, a most noble dwelling-place,
Full of things rare and precious. Even now
Would I possessed within my palace here
But the third part of these; and would that they
Were yet alive who perished on the plain
Of Troy afar from Argos and its steeds!
Yet while I grieve and while I mourn them all,
Here, sitting in my palace, I by turns
Indulge my heart in weeping, and by turns
I pause, for with continual sorrow comes
A weariness of spirit. Yet, in truth,
For none of all those warriors, though their fate
Afflicts me sorely, do I so much grieve
As for one hero. When I think of him,
The feast and couch are joyless, since, of all
The Achaian chiefs, none brought so much to pass
As did Ulysses, both in what he wrought
And what he suffered. Great calamities
Fell to his lot in life, and to my own
Grief for his sake that cannot be consoled.
Long has he been divided from his friends,
And whether he be living now or dead
We know not. Old Laertes, the sage queen
Penelope, and young Telemachus,
Whom, when he went to war he left newborn
At home, are sorrowing somewhere for his sake.”

He spake, and woke anew the young man’s grief
For his lost father. From his eyelids fell
Tears at the hearing of his father’s name,
And with both hands he held before his eyes
The purple mantle. Menelaus saw
His tears, and pondered, doubting which were best⁠—
To let the stranger of his own accord
Speak of his father, or to question him
At first, and then to tell him all he knew.

As thus he pondered, Helen, like in form
To Dian of the golden distaff, left
Her high-roofed chamber, where the air was sweet
With perfumes, and approached. Adrasta placed
A seat for her of costly workmanship;
Alcippè brought a mat of soft light wool,
And Phylo with a silver basket came,
Given by Alcandra, wife of Polybus,
Who dwelt at Thebes, in Egypt, and whose house
Was rich in things of price. Two silver baths
He gave to Menelaus, tripods two,
And talents ten of gold. His wife bestowed
Beautiful gifts on Helen⁠—one of gold,
A distaff; one a silver basket edged
With gold and round in form. This Phylo brought
Heaped with spun yarn and placed before the queen;
Upon it lay the distaff, wrapped in wool
Of color like the violet. Helen there
Sat down, a footstool at her feet, and straight
Questioned with earnest words her husband thus:⁠—

“Say, Menelaus, foster-child of Jove,
Is it yet known what lineage these men claim⁠—
These visitants? And what I now shall say,
Will it be false or true? Yet must I speak.
Woman or man I think I never saw
So like another as this youth, on whom
I look with deep astonishment, is like
Telemachus, the son whom our great chief
Ulysses left at home a tender babe
When ye Achaians for my guilty sake
Went forth to wage the bloody war with Troy.”

And fair-haired Menelaus answered her:⁠—
“Yea, wife, so deem I as it seems to thee.
Such are his feet, his hands, the cast of the eye,
His head, the hair upon his brow. Just now,
In speaking of Ulysses, as I told
How he had toiled and suffered for my sake,
The stranger held the purple cloak before
His eyes, and from the lids dropped bitter tears.”

Peisistratus, the son of Nestor, spake
In answer: “Menelaus, foster-child
Of Jove and son of Atreus! sovereign king!
He is, as thou hast said, that hero’s son;
But he is modest, and he deems that ill
It would become him, on arriving here,
If he should venture in discourse while thou
Art present, in whose voice we take delight
As if it were the utterance of a god.
The knight Gerenian Nestor sent me forth
To guide him hither⁠—for he earnestly
Desired to see thee, that thou mightest give
Counsel in what he yet should say or do.
For bitterly a son, who finds at home
No others to befriend him, must lament
The absence of a father. So it is
With young Telemachus; for far away
His father is, and in the land are none
Who have the power to shelter him from wrong.”

The fair-haired Menelaus answered thus:⁠—
“O wonder! Then the son of one most dear,
Who for my sake so oft has braved and borne
The conflicts of the battlefield, hath come
Beneath my roof. I thought that I should greet
His father with a warmer welcome here
Than any other of the Argive race,
When Jove the Olympian Thunderer should grant
A safe return to us across the deep
In our good ships. I would have founded here
For him a city in Argos, and have built
Dwellings, and would have brought from Ithaca
Him and his son, and all his wealth and all
His people. To this end I would have caused
Some neighboring district where my sway is owned
To be dispeopled. Dwelling here we oft
Should then have met each other, and no cause
Would e’er have parted us, two faithful friends
Delighting in each other, till at last
Came Death’s black cloud to wrap us in its shade.
A god, no doubt, hath seen in this a good
Too great for us, and thus to him alone,
Unhappy man! denied a safe return.”

He spake; his words awoke in every heart
Grief for the absent hero’s sake. Then wept
The Argive Helen, child of Jove; then wept
Telemachus; nor tearless were the eyes
Of Nestor’s son, for to his mind arose
The memory of the good Antilochus,
Slain by the bright Aurora’s eminent son;
Of him he thought, and spake these winged words:⁠—

“O son of Atreus! aged Nestor saith,
When in his palace we discourse of thee
And ask each other’s thought, that thou art wise
Beyond all other men. Now, if thou mayst,
Indulge me, for not willingly I weep
Thus at the evening feast, and soon will Morn,
Child of the Dawn, appear. I do not blame
This sorrow for whoever meets his fate
And dies; the only honors we can pay
To those unhappy mortals is to shred
Our locks away, and wet our cheeks with tears.
I lost a brother, not the least in worth
Among the Argives, whom thou must have seen.
I knew him not: I never saw his face;
Yet is it said Antilochus excelled
The others; swift of foot, and brave in war.”

The fair-haired Menelaus answered him:⁠—
“Since thou my friend hast spoken thus, as one
Discreet in word and deed, of riper years
Than thou, might speak and act⁠—for thou art born
Of such a father, and thy words are wise⁠—
And easy is it to discern the son
Of one on whom Saturnius has bestowed
Both at the birth-hour and in wedded life
His blessing; as he gives to Nestor now
A calm old age that lapses pleasantly,
Within his palace-halls, from day to day,
And sons wise-minded, mighty with the spear⁠—
Then let us lay aside this sudden grief
That has o’ertaken us, and only think
Of banqueting. Let water now be poured
Upon our hands; there will be time enough
Tomorrow for discourse; Telemachus
And I will then engage in mutual talk.”

He spake, Asphalion, who with diligent heed
Served the great Menelaus, on their hands
Poured water, and they shared the meats that lay
Upon the board. But Helen, Jove-born dame,
Had other thoughts, and with the wine they drank
Mingled a drug, an antidote to grief
And anger, bringing quick forgetfulness
Of all life’s evils. Whoso drinks, when once
It is infused and in the cup, that day
Shall never wet his cheeks with tears, although
His father and his mother lie in death,
Nor though his brother or beloved son
Fall butchered by the sword before his eyes.
Such sovereign drugs she had, that child of Jove,
Given her by Polydamna, wife of Thon,
A dame of Egypt, where the bounteous soil
Brings forth abundantly its potent herbs,
Of healing some and some of bane, and where
Dwell the physicians who excel in skill
All other men, for they are of the race
Of Paeon. Now when Helen in the cups
Had placed the drug, and bidden them to pour
The wine upon it, thus she spake again:⁠—

“Atrides Menelaus, reared by Jove,
And ye the sons of heroes!⁠—Jupiter
The sovereign, gives, at pleasure, good and ill
To one or to another, for his power
Is infinite⁠—now sitting in these halls,
Feast and enjoy free converse. I will speak
What suits the occasion. I could not relate,
I could not even name, the many toils
Borne by Ulysses, stout of heart. I speak
Only of what that valiant warrior did
And suffered once in Troy, where ye of Greece
Endured such hardships. He had given himself
Unseemly stripes, and o’er his shoulders flung
Vile garments like a slave’s, and entered thus
The enemy’s town, and walked its spacious streets.
Another man he seemed in that disguise⁠—
A beggar, though when at the Achaian fleet
So different was the semblance that he wore.
He entered Ilium thus transformed, and none
Knew who it was that passed, but I perceived,
And questioned him; he turned my quest aside
With crafty answers. After I had seen
The bath administered, anointed him
And clothed him, and had sworn a solemn oath
Not to reveal his visit to the men
Of Ilium till he reached again the tents
And galleys, then he opened to me all
The plans of the Achaians. Leaving me,
On his return he slew with his long spear
Full many a Trojan, and in safety reached
The Argive camp with tidings for the host.
Then wept aloud the Trojan dames, but I
Was glad at heart, for I already longed
For my old home, and deeply I deplored
The evil fate that Venus brought on me,
Who led me thither from my own dear land,
And from my daughter and my marriage-bower,
And from my lawful spouse, in whom I missed
No noble gift of person or of mind.”

Then fair-haired Menelaus said to her:⁠—
“All thou hast spoken, woman, is most true.
Of many a valiant warrior I have known
The counsels and the purposes, and far
Have roamed in many lands, but never yet
My eyes have looked on such another man
As was Ulysses, of a heart so bold
And such endurance. Witness what he did
And bore, the heroic man, what time we sat,
The bravest of the Argives, pent within
The wooden horse, about to bring to Troy
Slaughter and death. Thou earnest to the place,
Moved, as it seemed, by some divinity
Who thought to give the glory of the day
To Troy. Deiphobus, the godlike chief,
Was with thee. Thrice about the hollow frame
That held the ambush thou didst walk and touch
Its sides, and call the Achaian chiefs by name,
And imitate the voices of the wives
Of all the Argives. Diomed and I
Sat with the great Ulysses in the midst,
And with him heard thy call, and rose at once
To sally forth or answer from within;
But he forbade, impatient as we were,
And so restrained us. All the Achaian chiefs
Kept silence save Anticlus, who alone
Began to speak, when, with his powerful hands,
Ulysses pressed together instantly
The opening lips, and saved us all, and thus
Held them till Pallas lured thee from the spot.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:⁠—
“Atrides Menelaus, reared by Jove,
Ruler of tribes! the harder was his lot,
Since even thus he could not shun the stroke
Of death, not though a heart of steel were his.
But now dismiss us to our beds, that there,
Couched softly, we may welcome balmy sleep.”

He spake, and Argive Helen called her maids
To make up couches in the portico,
And throw fair purple blankets over them,
And tapestry above, and cover all
With shaggy cloaks. Forth from the palace halls
They went with torches, and made ready soon
The couches; thither heralds led the guests.
There in the vestibule Telemachus,
The hero, and with him the eminent son
Of Nestor, took their rest. Meanwhile the son
Of Atreus lay within an inner room
Of that magnificent pile, and near to him
The glorious lady, long-robed Helen, slept.
But when at length the daughter of the Dawn,
The rosy-fingered Morning, brought her light,
Then Menelaus, great in battle, rose,
Put on his garments, took his trenchant sword,
And, having hung it on his shoulder, laced
The shapely sandals to his shining feet,
And issued from his chamber like a god
In aspect. Near Telemachus he took
His seat, and calling him by name he spake:⁠—

“What urgent cause, my brave Telemachus,
Brings thee to sacred Lacedaemon o’er
The breast of the great ocean? Frankly say,
Is it a private or a public need?”

And thus discreet Telemachus replied:⁠—
“Atrides Menelaus, reared by Jove,
Ruler of nations! I am come to ask
News of my father, if thou knowest aught.
My heritage is wasting; my rich fields
Are made a desolation. Enemies
Swarm in my palace, and from day to day
Slaughter my flocks and slow-paced horned herds;
My mother’s suitors they, and measureless
Their insolence. And therefore am I come
To clasp thy knees, and pray thee to relate
The manner of my father’s sorrowful death
As thou hast seen it with thine eyes, or heard
Its story from some wandering man⁠—for sure
His mother brought him forth to wretchedness
Beyond the common lot. I ask thee not
To soften aught in the sad history
Through tenderness to me, or kind regard,
But tell me plainly all that thou dost know;
And I beseech thee, if at any time
My father, good Ulysses, brought to pass
Aught that he undertook for thee in word
Or act while ye were in the realm of Troy,
Where the Greeks suffered sorely, bear it now
In mind, and let me have the naked truth.”

Then Menelaus of the amber locks
Drew a deep sigh, and thus in answer said:⁠—
“Heavens! they would climb into a brave man’s bed,
These craven weaklings. But as when a hart
Has hid her newborn suckling fawns within
The lair of some fierce lion, and gone forth
Herself to range the mountainsides and feed
Among the grassy lawns, the lion comes
Back to the place and brings them sudden death,
So will Ulysses bring a bloody fate
Upon the suitor crew. O father Jove,
And Pallas, and Apollo! I could wish
That now, with prowess such as once was his
When he, of yore, in Lesbos nobly built,
Rising to strive with Philomela’s son,
In wrestling threw him heavily, and all
The Greeks rejoiced, Ulysses might engage
The suitors. Short were then their term of life,
And bitter would the nuptial banquet be.
Now for the questions thou hast put, and craved
From me a true reply, I will not seek
To pass them by with talk of other things,
Nor yet deceive thee, but of all that once
Was told me by the Ancient of the Deep,
Whose words are truth, I shall keep nothing back.

“In Egypt still, though longing to come home,
The gods detained me; for I had not paid
The sacrifice of chosen hecatombs,
And ever do the gods require of us
Remembrance of their laws. There is an isle
Within the billowy sea before you reach
The coast of Egypt⁠—Pharos is its name⁠—
At such a distance as a ship could pass
In one whole day with a shrill breeze astern.
A sheltered haven lies within that isle,
Whence the good ships go forth with fresh supplies
Of water. There the gods constrained my stay
For twenty days, and never in that time
Blew favoring winds across the waters, such
As bear the galley over the great deep.
Now would our stores of food have been consumed,
Now would the courage of my men have died,
Had not a goddess pitied me, and come
To my relief, by name Eidothea, born
To the great Proteus, Ancient of the Deep.
For she was moved by my distress, and came
To me while I was wandering alone,
Apart from all the rest. They through the isle
Roamed everywhere from place to place, and, pinched
With hunger, threw the hook for fish. She came,
And, standing near, accosted me and said:⁠—

“ ‘Stranger, thou art an idiot, or at least
Of careless mood, or else art willingly
Neglectful, and art pleased with suffering,
That thou dost linger in this isle so long
And find no means to leave it, while the hearts
Of thy companions faint with the delay.’

“She spake, and I replied: ‘Whoe’er thou art,
goddess, let me say, not willingly
I linger here. I surely must have sinned
Against the immortal dwellers of high heaven;
But tell me⁠—for the gods know all things⁠—who
Of all the immortals holds me windbound here,
Hindering my voyage; tell me also how
To reach my home across the fishy deep.’

“I ended, and the glorious goddess said
In answer: ‘Stranger, I will truly speak;
The deathless Ancient of the Deep, whose words
Are ever true, Egyptian Proteus, oft
Here makes his haunt. To him are fully known⁠—
For he is Neptune’s subject⁠—all the depths
Of the great ocean. It is said I owe
To him my birth. If him thou canst insnare
And seize, he will disclose to thee thy way
And all its distances, and tell thee how
To reach thy home across the fishy deep;
And further will reveal, if so he choose,
O foster-child of Jove, whate’er of good
Or ill has in thy palace come to pass,
While thou wert wandering long and wearily.’

“So said the goddess, and I spake again:⁠—
‘Explain by what device to snare and hold
The aged deity, lest he foreknow
Or else suspect our purpose and escape.
’Twere hard for mortals to constrain a god.’

“I ended, and the glorious goddess thus
Made answer: ‘When the climbing sun has reached
The middle heaven, the Ancient of the Deep,
Who ne’er deceives, emerges from the waves,
And, covered with the dark scum of the sea,
Walks forth, and in a cavern vault lies down.
Thither fair Halosydna’s progeny,
The sea-calves from the hoary ocean, throng,
Rank with the bitter odor of the brine,
And slumber near him. With the break of day
I will conduct thee thither and appoint
Thy place, but thou shalt choose to go with thee
Three of the bravest men in thy good ships.
And let me now relate the stratagems
Of the old prophet. He at first will count
The sea-calves, going o’er them all by fives;
And when he has beheld and numbered all,
Amidst them all will he lie down, as lies
A shepherd midst his flock. And then, as soon
As ye behold him stretched at length, exert
Your utmost strength to hold him there, although
He strive and struggle to escape your hands;
For he will try all stratagems, and take
The form of every reptile on the earth,
And turn to water and to raging flame⁠—
Yet hold him firmly still, and all the more
Make fast the bands. When he again shall take
The form in which thou sawest him asleep,
Desist from force, and loose the bands that held
The ancient prophet. Ask of him what god
Afflicts thee thus, and by what means to cross
The fishy deep and find thy home again.’
“Thus having said, the goddess straightway sprang
Into the billowy ocean, while I sought
The galleys, where they rested on the sand,
With an uneasy spirit. When I reached
The ship and shore we made our evening meal.
The hallowed night came down; we lay and slept
Upon the sea-beach. When the Morning came,
The rosy-fingered daughter of the Dawn,
Forth on the border of the mighty main
I went, and prayed the immortals fervently.
I led three comrades, whom I trusted most
In all adventures. Entering the depths
Of the great sea, the goddess brought us thence
Four skins of sea-calves newly flayed, that thus
We might deceive her father. Then she scooped
Beds for us in the sea-sand, and sat down
To wait his coming. We were near to her,
And there she laid us duly down, and threw
A skin o’er each. Now did our ambush seem
Beyond endurance, for the noisome smell
Of those sea-nourished creatures sickened us;
And who could bear to sleep beside a whale?
But she bethought her of an antidote,
A sovereign one, and so relieved us all.
To each she brought ambrosia, placing it
Beneath his nostrils, and the sweets it breathed
O’ercame the animal odor. All the morn
We waited patiently. The sea-calves came
From ocean in a throng, and laid themselves
In rows along the margin of the sea.
At noon emerged the aged seer, and found
His well-fed sea-calves. Going o’er them all
He counted them, ourselves among the rest,
With no misgiving of the fraud, and then
He laid him down to rest. We rushed with shouts
Upon him suddenly, and in our arms
Caught him; nor did the aged seer forget
His stratagems; and first he took the shape
Of a maned lion, of a serpent next,
Then of a panther, then of a huge boar,
Then turned to flowing water, then became
A tall tree full of leaves. With resolute hearts
We held him fast, until the aged seer
Was wearied out, in spite of all his wiles.
And questioned me in speech at last and said:⁠—

“ ‘O son of Atreus! who of all the gods
Hath taught thee how to take me in this snare,
Unwilling as I am? What wouldst thou have?’

“He spake; I answered: ‘Aged prophet, well
Thou knowest. Why deceitfully inquire?
It is that I am held a prisoner long
Within this isle, and vainly seek the means
Of my escape, and grief consumes my heart.
Now⁠—since the gods know all things⁠—tell me this,
What deity it is, that, hindering thus
My voyage, keeps me here, and tell me how
To cross the fishy deep and reach my home.’

“Such were my words, and he in answer said:⁠—
‘But thou to Jove and to the other gods
Shouldst first have paid acceptable sacrifice,
And shouldst have then embarked to reach with speed
Thy native land across the dark-blue deep.
Now it is not thy fate to see again
Thy friends, thy stately palace, and the land
That saw thy birth, until thou stand once more
Beside the river that through Egypt flows
From Jove, and offer sacred hecatombs
To the ever-living gods inhabiting
The boundless heaven, and they will speed thee forth
Upon the voyage thou dost long to make.’

“He spake. My heart was broken as I heard
His bidding to recross the shadowy sea
To Egypt, for the way was difficult
And long; and yet I answered him and said:⁠—

“ ‘Duly will I perform, O aged seer,
What thou commandest. But I pray thee tell,
And truly, whether all the sons of Greece
Whom Nestor and myself, in setting sail,
Left on the Trojan coast, have since returned
Safe with their galleys, or have any died
Untimely in their ships or in the arms
Of their companions since the war was closed?’

“I spake; again he answered me and said:⁠—
‘Why dost thou ask, Atrides, since to know
Thou needest not, nor is it well to explore
The secrets of my mind? Thou canst not, sure,
Refrain from tears when thou shalt know the whole.
Many are dead, and many left in Troy.
Two leaders only of the well-armed Greeks
Were slain returning; in that combat thou
Didst bear a part; one, living yet, is kept,
Far in the mighty main, from his return.

“ ‘Amid his well-oared galleys Ajax died.
For Neptune first had driven him on the rocks
Of Gyrae, yet had saved him from the sea;
And he, though Pallas hated him, had yet
Been rescued, but for uttering boastful words,
Which drew his fate upon him. He had said
That he, in spite of all the gods, would come
Safe from those mountain waves. When Neptune heard
The boaster’s challenge, instantly he laid
His strong hand on the trident, smote the rock
And cleft it to the base. Part stood erect,
Part fell into the deep. There Ajax sat,
And felt the shock, and with the falling mass
Was carried headlong to the billowy depths
Below, and drank the brine and perished there.
Thy brother in his roomy ships escaped
The danger, for imperial Juno’s aid
Preserved him. But when near Meleia’s heights
About to land, a tempest seized and swept
The hero thence across the fishy deep,
Lamenting his hard lot, to that far cape
Where once abode Thyestes, and where now
His son Aegisthus dwelt. But when the gods
Sent other winds, and safe at last appeared
The voyage, they returned, and reached their home.
With joy he stepped upon his native soil,
And kissed the earth that bore him, while his tears
At that most welcome sight flowed fast and warm.
Him from a lofty perch a spy beheld,
Whom treacherous Aegisthus planted there,
Bribed by two golden talents. He had watched
The whole year through, lest, coming unobserved,
The king might make his prowess felt. The spy
Flew to the royal palace with the news,
And instantly Aegisthus planned a snare.
He chose among the people twenty men,
The bravest, whom he stationed out of sight,
And gave command that others should prepare
A banquet. Then with chariots and with steeds,
And with a deadly purpose in his heart,
He went, and, meeting Agamemnon, bade
The shepherd of the people to the feast,
And slew him at the board as men might slay
A bullock at the crib. Of all who went
With Agamemnon thither, none survived,
And of the followers of Aegisthus none,
But all were slaughtered in the banquet-hall’

“He spake; my heart was breaking, and I wept,
While sitting on the sand, nor in my heart
Cared I to live, or longer to behold
The sweet light of the sun. But when there came
Respite from tears and writhing on the ground,
The Ancient of the Deep, who ne’er deceives,
Spake yet again: ‘Atrides, lose no time
In tears; they profit nothing. Rather seek
The means by which thou mayst the soonest reach
Thy native land. There thou perchance mayst find
Aegisthus yet alive, or haply first
Orestes may have slain him, and thyself
Arrive to see the funeral rites performed.’

“He spake, and though afflicted still, my heart
Was somewhat comforted; my spirit rose,
And thus I answered him with winged words:⁠—

“ ‘These men I know; name now the third, who still
Is kept from his return afar within
The mighty main⁠—alive, perchance, or dead;
For, though I dread to hear, I long to know.’

“I spake, and Proteus answered me again:⁠—
‘It is Laertes’ son, whose dwelling stands
In Ithaca. I saw him in an isle,
And in the cavern-palace of the nymph
Calypso, weeping bitterly, for she
Constrains his stay. He cannot leave the isle
For his own country; ship arrayed with oars
And seamen has he none to bear him o’er
The breast of the great ocean. But for thee,
’Tis not decreed that thou shalt meet thy fate
And die, most noble Menelaus, where
The steeds of Argos in her pastures graze.
The gods will send thee to the Elysian plain,
And to the end of earth, the dwelling-place
Of fair-haired Rhadamanthus. There do men
Lead easiest lives. No snow, no bitter cold,
No beating rains, are there; the ocean-deeps
With murmuring breezes from the West refresh
The dwellers. Thither shalt thou go; for thou
Art Helen’s spouse, and son-in-law of Jove.’

“He spake, and plunged into the billowy deep.
I to the fleet returned in company
With my brave men, revolving, as I went,
A thousand projects in my thought. I reached
My galley by the sea, and we prepared
Our evening meal. The hallowed night came down,
And there upon the ocean-beach we slept.
But when the rosy-fingered Morn appeared,
The daughter of the Dawn, we drew our ships
To the great deep, and raised the masts and spread
The sails; the crews, all entering, took their seats
Upon the benches, ranged in order due,
And beat the foaming water with their oars.
Again to Egypt’s coast I brought the fleet,
And to the river that descends from Jove,
And there I offered chosen hecatombs;
And having thus appeased the gods, I reared
A tomb to Agamemnon, that his fame
Might never die. When this was done I sailed
For home; the gods bestowed a favoring wind.
But now remain thou till the eleventh day,
Or till the twelfth, beneath my roof, and then
Will I dismiss thee with munificent gifts⁠—
Three steeds, a polished chariot, and a cup
Of price, with which to pour, from day to day,
Wine to the gods in memory of me.”

Then spake discreet Telemachus again:⁠—
“Atrides, seek not to detain me long,
Though I could sit contentedly a year
Beside thee, never longing for my home,
Nor for my parents, such delight I find
In listening to thy words; but even now,
In hallowed Pylos, my companions grow
Weary, while thou delayest my return.
The gifts⁠—whate’er thou choosest to bestow⁠—
Let them be such as I can treasure up.
The steeds to Ithaca I may not take,
I leave them to adorn thy retinue;
For thou art ruler o’er a realm of plains,
Where grows much lotus, and sweet grasses spring,
And wheat and rye, and the luxuriant stalks
Of the white barley. But in Ithaca
Are no broad grounds for coursing, meadows none.
Goats graze amid its fields, a fairer land
Than those where horses feed. No isle that lies
Within the deep has either roads for steeds
Or meadows, least of all has Ithaca.”

He spake; the valiant Menelaus smiled,
And kindly touched him with his hand and said:⁠—

“Dear son, thou comest of a generous stock;
Thy words declare it. I will change my gifts,
As well I may. Of all that in my house
Are treasured up, the choicest I will give,
And the most precious. I will give a cup
Wrought all of silver save its brim of gold.
It is the work of Vulcan. Phaedimus
The hero, King of Sidon, gave it me,
When I was coming home, and underneath
His roof was sheltered. Now it shall be thine.”

So talked they with each other. Meantime came
Those who prepared the banquet to the halls
Of the great monarch. Bringing sheep they came
And strengthening wine. Their wives, who on their brows
Wore showy fillets, brought the bread, and thus
Within the house of Menelaus all
Was bustle, setting forth the evening meal.

But in the well-paved court which lay before
The palace of Ulysses, where of late
Their insolence was shown, the suitor train
Amused themselves with casting quoits and spears,
While by themselves Antinoüs, and the youth
Of godlike mien, Eurymachus, who both
Were eminent above the others, sat.
To them Noëmon, son of Phronius, went,
Drew near, bespake Antinoüs and inquired:⁠—

“Is it among us known, or is it not,
Antinoüs, when Telemachus returns
From sandy Pylos? Thither he is gone
And in my galley, which I need to cross
To spacious Elis. There I have twelve mares
And hardy mule-colts with them yet untamed,
And some I must subdue to take the yoke.”

He spake, and they were both amazed; for they
Had never thought of him as visiting
Neleian Pylos, deeming that the youth
Was somewhere in his fields, among the flocks,
Or haply with the keeper of the swine.

Then did Antinoüs, Eupeithes’ son,
Make answer: “Tell me truly when he sailed,
And what young men of Ithaca he chose
To go with him. Were they his slaves, or hired
To be his followers? Tell, for I would know
The whole. Took he thy ship against thy will?
Or didst thou yield it at his first request?”

Noëmon, son of Phornius, thus replied:⁠—
“Most willingly I gave it, for what else
Would anyone have done when such a man
Desired it in his need? It would have been
Hard to deny it. For the band of youths
Who followed him, they are the bravest here
Of all our people; and I saw embark,
As their commander, Mentor, or some god
Like Mentor altogether. One thing moves
My wonder. Only yesterday, at dawn,
I met with Mentor here, whom I before
Had seen embarking for the Pylian coast.”

Noëmon spake, and to his father’s house
Departed. Both were troubled at his words,
And all the suitors took at once their seats,
And ceased their pastimes. Then Antinoüs spake,
Son of Eupeithes, greatly vexed; his heart
Was darkened with blind rage; his eyes shot fire.

“Strange doings these! a great and proud exploit
Performed⁠—this voyage of Telemachus,
Which we had called impossible! The boy,
In spite of us, has had his will and gone,
And carried off a ship, and for his crew
Chosen the bravest of the people here.
He yet will prove a pest. May Jupiter
Crush him ere he can work us further harm!
Now give me a swift barque and twenty men
That I may lie in ambush and keep watch
For his return within the straits between
This isle and rugged Samos; then, I deem,
He will have sought his father to his cost.”

He spake; they praised his words and bade him act,
And rose and left their places, entering
The palace of Ulysses. Brief the time
That passed before Penelope was warned
Of what the suitors treacherously planned.
The herald Medon told her all. He heard
In the outer court their counsels while within
They plotted, and he hastened through the house
To bring the tidings to Penelope.
Penelope perceived him as he stepped
Across the threshold, and bespake him thus:⁠—

“Why, herald, have the suitor princes sent
Thee hither? comest thou to bid the maids
Of great Ulysses leave their tasks and make
A banquet ready? Would their wooing here
And elsewhere were but ended, and this feast
Were their last feast on earth! Ye who in throngs
Come hither and so wastefully consume
The substance of the brave Telemachus,
Have ye not from your parents, while ye yet
Were children, heard how once Ulysses lived
Among them, never wronging any man
In all the realm by aught he did or said⁠—
As mighty princes often do, through hate
Of some and love of others? Never man
Endured injustice at his hands, but you⁠—
Your vile designs and acts are known; ye bear
No grateful memory of a good man’s deeds.”

And then, in turn, experienced Medon spake:⁠—
“O queen, I would this evil were the worst!
The suitors meditate a greater still,
And a more heinous far. May Jupiter
Never permit the crime! Their purpose is
To meet Telemachus, on his return,
And slay him with the sword; for thou must know
That on a voyage to the Pylian coast
And noble Lacedaemon he has sailed,
To gather tidings of his father’s fate.”

He spake, and her knees failed her and her heart
Sank as she heard. Long time she could not speak;
Her eyes were filled with tears, and her clear voice
Was choked; yet, finding words at length, she said:⁠—

“O herald! wherefore should my son have gone?
There was no need that he should trust himself
To the swift ships, those horses of the sea,
With which men traverse its unmeasured waste.
Was it that he might leave no name on earth?”

And then again experienced Medon spake:⁠—
“I know not whether prompted by some god
Or moved by his own heart thy son has sailed
For Pylos, hoping there to hear some news
Of his returning father, or his fate.”

Thus having said, the herald, traversing
The palace of Ulysses, went his way,
While a keen anguish overpowered the queen,
Nor could she longer bear to keep her place
Upon her seat⁠—and many seats were there⁠—
But on the threshold of her gorgeous rooms
Lay piteously lamenting. Round her came
Her maidens wailing⁠—all, both old and young,
Who formed her household. These Penelope,
Sobbing in her great sorrow, thus bespake:⁠—

“Hear me, my friends, the heavens have cast on me
Griefs heavier than on any others born
And reared with me⁠—me, who had lost by death
Already a most gracious husband, one
Who bore a lion heart and who was graced
With every virtue, greatly eminent
Among the Greeks, and widely famed abroad
Through Hellas and all Argos. Now my son,
He whom I loved, is driven before the storms
From home, inglorious, and I was not told
Of his departure. Ye too, worthless crew!
Ye took no thought, not one of you, to call
Me from my sleep, although ye must have known
Full well when he embarked in his black ship.
And if it had been told me that he planned
This voyage, then, impatient as he was
To sail, he would have certainly remained,
Or else have left me in these halls a corpse.
And now let one of my attendants call
The aged Dolius, whom, when first I came
To this abode, my father gave to me
To be my servant, and who has in charge
My orchards. Let him haste and take his place
Beside Laertes, and to him declare
All that has happened, that he may devise
Some fitting remedy, or go among
The people, to deplore the dark designs
Of those who now are plotting to destroy
The heir of great Ulysses and his own.”

Then Eurycleia, the beloved nurse,
Answered: “Dear lady, slay me with the sword,
Or leave me here alive; I will conceal
Nothing that has been done or said. I gave
All that he asked, both bread and delicate wine,
And took a solemn oath, which he required,
To tell thee naught of this till twelve days passed,
Or till thou shouldst thyself inquire and hear
Of his departure, that those lovely cheeks
Might not be stained with tears. Now bathe and put
Fresh garments on, and to the upper rooms
Ascending, with thy handmaids offer prayer
To Pallas, daughter of the god who bears
The aegis. She will then protect thy son,
Even from death. Grieve not the aged man,
Already much afflicted. Sure I am
The lineage of Arcesius has not lost
The favor of the gods, but someone yet
Surviving will possess its lofty halls
And its rich acres, stretching far away.”

She spake; the queen repressed her grief, and held
Her eyes from tears. She took the bath and put
Fresh garments on, and, to the upper rooms
Ascending with her maidens, heaped with cakes
A canister, and prayed to Pallas thus:⁠—

“Daughter invincible of Jupiter
The Aegis-bearer, hear me. If within
Thy courts the wise Ulysses ever burned
Fat thighs of beeves or sheep, remember it,
And rescue my dear son, and bring to naught
The wicked plots of the proud suitor-crew.”

She spake, and wept aloud. The goddess heard
Her prayer. Meantime the suitors filled with noise
The shadowy palace-halls, and there were some
Among that throng of arrogant youths who said:⁠—

“Truly the queen, whom we have wooed so long,
Prepares for marriage; little does she know
The bloody death we destine for her son.”

So spake they, unaware of what was done
Elsewhere. Antinoüs then stood forth and said:⁠—

“Good friends, I warn you all that ye refrain
From boasts like these, lest someone should report
Your words within. Now let us silently
Rise up, and all conspire to put in act
The counsel all so heartily approve.”

He spake, and chose a crew of twenty men,
The bravest. To the seaside and the ship
They went, and down to the deep water drew
The ship, and put the mast and sails on board,
And fitted duly to their leathern rings
The oars, and spread the white sail overhead.
Their nimble-handed servants brought them arms,
And there they moored the galley, went on board,
And supped and waited for the evening star.

Now in the upper chamber the chaste queen,
Penelope, lay fasting; food or wine
She had not tasted, and her thoughts were still
Fixed on her blameless son. Would he escape
The threatened death, or perish by the hands
Of the insolent suitors? As a lion’s thoughts,
When, midst a crowd of men, he sees with dread
The hostile circle slowly closing round,
Such were her thoughts, when balmy sleep at length
Came creeping over her as on her couch
She lay reclined, her limbs relaxed in rest.

Now Pallas framed a new device; she called
A phantom up, in aspect like the dame
Iphthime, whom Eumelus had espoused
In Pherae, daughter of the high-souled chief
Icarius. Her she sent into the halls
Of great Ulysses, that she might beguile
The sorrowful Penelope from tears
And lamentations. By the thong that held
The bolt she slid into the royal bower
And standing by her head bespake the queen:⁠—

“Penelope, afflicted as thou art,
Art thou asleep? The ever-blessed gods
Permit thee not to grieve and weep; thy son,
Who has not sinned against them, shall return.”

And then discreet Penelope replied,
Still sweetly slumbering at the Gate of Dreams:⁠—

“Why, sister, art thou here, who ne’er before
Hast come to me? The home is far away
In which thou dwellest. Thou exhortest me
To cease from grieving, and to lay aside
The painful thoughts that crowd into my mind,
And torture me who have already lost
A noble-minded, lionhearted spouse,
One eminent among Achaia’s sons
For every virtue, and whose fame was spread
Through Hellas and through Argos. Now my son,
My best beloved, goes to sea⁠—a boy,
Unused to hardships, and unskilled to deal
With strangers. More I sorrow for his sake
Than for his father’s. I am filled with fear,
And tremble lest he suffer wrong from those
Among whom he has gone, or on the deep,
Where he has enemies who lie in wait
To slay him ere he reach his home again.”

And then the shadowy image spake again:⁠—
“Be of good courage; let not fear o’ercome
Thy spirit, for there goes with him a guide
Such as all others would desire to have
Beside them ever, trusting in her power⁠—
Pallas Athene, and she looks on thee
With pity. From her presence I am sent,
Her messenger, declaring this to thee.”

Again discreet Penelope replied:⁠—
“If then thou be a goddess and hast heard
A goddess speak these words, declare, I pray,
Of that ill-fated one, if yet he live
And look upon the sun, or else have died
And passed to the abodes beneath the earth.”

Once more the shadowy image spake: “Of him
Will I say nothing, whether living yet
Or dead; no time is this for idle words.”

She said, and from the chamber glided forth
Beside the bolt, and mingled with the winds.
Then quickly from her couch of sleep arose
The daughter of Icarius, for her heart
Was glad, so plainly had the dream conveyed
Its message in the stillness of the night.

Meanwhile the suitors on their ocean-path
Went in their galley, plotting cruelly
To slay Telemachus. A rocky isle
Far in the middle sea, between the coast
Of Ithaca and craggy Samos, lies,
Named Asteris; of narrow bounds, yet there
A sheltered haven is to which two straits
Give entrance. There the Achaians lay in wait.